The challenge came right out of the 2011-2012 Common Book: to build a windmill just like author William Kamkwamba’s.
While many students across campus were simply discussing “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope,” students in Chuck Wright’s Engineering Technology class were planning and executing a design that would replicate the windmill the author built as a 14-year-old.
The finished project now stands near the Educational Resources Center, decked out in Christmas lights, but the idea of building a windmill originated before Kamkwamba ever spoke at the fall President’s Convocation or toured the Engineering Technology area.
“When we first picked the book,” said the English Department’s Carol Luther, “I really wanted our engineering students to take this on as a project. I thought it would be a great way for these students to participate in the Common Book.”
The background research began in Pat Riddle’s MET Special Topics class during summer semester. In August, students in Engineering Technology Capstone began construction of the windmill.
“The windmill group experienced project management firsthand,” Wright said, “and plotted construction progress using Microsoft Project scheduling software. They used all the skills taught in Mechanical, Electrical and Civil courses.”
By December and 300 student-hours later, the group had constructed a windmill like Kamkwamba’s original—right down to the bicycle frame and wheel, the solar panel, and the pulleys and bearings. (The students did have to modify the materials a little bit. The author used the trunks of blue gum trees and rope; the students substituted 4-by-4s and steel bracing to keep the structure steady in a high wind.) The windmill was erected on the north end of the Courtyard, where the wind speed was determined to be greatest.
“The bike wheel and frame are used as a ‘gear reduction’ unit to increase the speed of the generator,” Wright said. “Both wind and solar are charging a big 12-volt battery. Off of the battery is an inverter that will run up to 4,000 watts. Right now it’s running a set of Christmas tree lights from 6 to 10 p.m.”
Wright says the windmill conservatively can power four 100-watt light bulbs or an electric drill for eight hours on energy already stored. The structure will remain in place until the end of this academic year. It will then be used by the College for further experiments in alternative energy.
“I’m really excited about having the windmill on campus for students to see,” said Luther. “I’m just thrilled with the way everything has come together.”