Wind, Data, Interns, and Power In the City

This spring my Metro Early College Design intern at Mezzacello wanted to work on energy integration and automation systems. We looked at all of the systems and opted to explore the relationship of wind, data, interns, and power in the city. Sudman (my intern) came up with a plan and a name, #VAWT4All.

We knew we were going to need more than just power – which we get plenty of – we wanted data for Sudman’s capstone project. We chose the Vertical Axis Wind Turbine (VAWT) model we wanted to test and then built them at the southern edge of the property that faces busy Broad Street.

Data Mapping

At first, Sudman was daunted by how we were going to collate all of these data streams:

  • Ambient Weather
  • Traffic Patterns
  • COTA Bus Schedules
  • Voltages
  • Battery Loads
  • Tracking and Modeling Data

I am pleased to report that so far, He is doing a good job. First we needed to consider how we would mount the VAWT to the sheds at the south face of Mezzacello. We had to price conscious as we did not have grant money to pay for traditional mounting and monitoring solutions.

Menards, Airtable, COTA, Arduino, and Amazon To The Rescue

Sudman and I determined that if we made subtle modifications to 1.5″ steel pipe and fittings we could mount the VAWTs securely to the shed and still clear the roof drip ledge. The pipe is actually two 60″ sections secured to the shed with standard tees and flanges, and the top riser section is a 24″ section with a modified flange for the VAWT base.

The use of this off-the-shelf system saved us a small fortune and made installation a snap! Next we needed a system to monitor local weather conditions that could be isolated from the larger regional area. We went with a La Crosse WiFi-enabled weather system with an anemometer, precipitation sensor and temp and humidity sensors. This would allow Sudman to determine how weather conditions affected the system.

To collect data of the surrounding area and traffic conditions we went with an Amazon Blink system to provide video and snapshot data of traffic conditions at the time of measurement. Then we used Airtable to create a quick and dirty database for collected data and a web-enabled form to collect the data remotely. Lastly, Sudman donloaded the #10 COTA Bus schedule as a CSV and imported that into Airtable as a reference table for the presence of busses and impacts on energy production.

One of the immediate challenges in tracking the reaction between COTA Busses and their impact on the VAWTs was timing efficiency. COTA only publishes two of the eight stops on East and West Broad Street, 4th Street and Ohio Avenue. Sudman had to extrapolate the actual timing of the stops at Hoffman and Ohio, the two stops closest to Mezzacello.

Lastly, we built an Arduino-based module that would allow Sudman to collect voltage and battery performance data at a given time. Now he is graphing this data to determine if the Busses have any real impact on energy generation to an undisturbed space between the VAWT installation and the traffic patterns.

It is anecdotal at this point, as Sudman is tracking data until May 20th when his capstone research is due. I will be sure to follow up here with his presentation and data. I can tell you he was very excited while we were working on the install, feeling the wind from passing busses and the spinning VAWT as well as what the voltmeter was telling us.

The 3D Printing Pivot We Missed

Lastly, part of Sudman and my plan for this project was an entirely 3D printed version of the VAWT model for testing. Unfortunately it has been next to impossible to find a 300+ mm 3D printer capable of printing the complex snap-together assembly Sudman has designed. It is a real-world lesson in the limits of engaged research – sometimes you can’t hit all your targets.

To his credit, his alternative solution is pretty creative and totally Science Fair worthy. We have decided to replace the “flower turbines” (seen above) on the bioreactor here at Mezzacello with chipboard and plastic rod prototypes of the VAWT turbines to conduct tests on and make his vision of wind power anywhere for anyone a closer reality.

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