Collegiate Wind Competition Winners Announced (WINDPOWER 2014)

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Originally published on Into the Wind.
By Peebles Squire 

The turbines have been tested, the judges have weighed in on their engineering, and now, all that remains is what some would consider the hardest part of the process: selling your product.

The 10 teams in the Department of Energy’s Collegiate Wind Competition spent this morning showcasing their business plans, making the economic case for their products, simulating a real-life venture.

But the teams’ proposals weren’t intended to stay behind closed doors, subject to only the whims of a few judges. This afternoon, each team is stepping onto the main stage to make a case for their product to WINDPOWER attendees.

The judging panel included experts from across the industry, bringing relevant, sometimes hard-hitting questions about the viability of the teams’ products:

  • Troy Patton, CEO of Northern Power Systems
  • Haley Estes Roberto, President of Harvest the Wind Network
  • Mike Derby, Chief Technology Officer for DOE’s wind program
  • Keith Longtin, General Manager, GE Wind Products

The “shark tank” was in full effect as the judges dug into every aspect of each program’s engineering, business plan, and marketing strategy. The conversations ranged from topics on costs and manufacturing challenges, to more nuanced questions on keeping out sand and grit from rooftop turbines in Sub-Saharan Africa.

One pitch I found particularly impressive was “Turby,” built by the Boise State University team. Their design is special because it focuses on a market that stands to benefit greatly from their product: middle and high school students. As evidenced by the 470 or so booths on the showroom floor below, wind power is big business, and a turbine kit represents a fantastic way to learn how these complex machines work, setting students up for a future career in this evolving industry.

The public pitches mark the last step in a long process that will terminate tonight at 5:30 with the awards ceremony. After months of hard work and preparation, a winner must be chosen.

And so the judges have prepared their remarks and rendered their verdict, the public has spoken, too, using SMS to vote electronically for their favorite design, and this three-day saga will now draw to a close with the moment these 10 teams have been waiting for since arriving — the awards ceremony.

Susan Reilly of RES Americas, AWEA’s newest board chair, thanks the faculty and students

Jose Zayas, manager of the DOE’s Wind and Water Power Program, introduced Tom Kiernan, who kicked off the awards ceremony with the help of AWEA’s new board chair, Susan Reilly.

Thanking the professors and faculty who guided our intrepid students along their exhausting path, Susan stressed the importance of building wind power, 10 GW a year on average, by 2020. These college students, pioneers in their own right, will make up an important part of that drive. She linked the need for long-term policy stability with the fight against climate change, necessary to ensure these young wind wranglers can continue to pursue their passions.

Speeches finished, it was time for the awards ceremony. Who, after these grueling months, would rise to the top as the winner of the Collegiate Wind Competition?

“It’s amazing to see this finally happen,” as Jose reflected on the long road now behind the competition teams, offering thanks to all the men and women who made this program possible.

Despite mechanical failures and endless trips to Home Depot, the competition’s inaugural class represents the best in the inventiveness and perseverance of some of America’s brightest students.

Larry Flowers, who recently retired from his post at AWEA to judge the engineering and design segment

But the time for thank-you’s had ended, and the big moment had arrived. Here are the winners of the first-ever Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition:

People’s Choice Award: Penn State University

Design and Turbine Performance Contest Award: University of Kansas

Market Issues Contest Award: Penn State University

Business Plan Contest Award: University of Kansas

Overall 3rd Place: University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Overall 2nd Place: University of Kansas

And the winner is… following a few short remarks from Vestas CEO Chris Brown…

For first place (and the winner of an extremely rare LEGO wind turbine from Vestas): Penn State University!

Many thanks to DOE and all of the Competition’s sponsors for making this first-ever event a reality. I can’t wait to see what next year brings!

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