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Sea breeze: students in Cape Cod harness the wind to power their school.


Reading, writing, and arithmetic have dominated teens' course-loads for years. Now, some schools are mixing things up by adding studies of wind energy, solar energy, and alternative fuels.

Students at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School, or Upper Cape Tech as it is known around Bourne, Massachusetts, are preparing for careers by studying renewable energy, or energy that is quickly replenished. Although wind now provides less than 1 percent of the world's electricity, researchers expect that percent to grow as people look for alternatives to fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. The burning of fossil fuels produces pollution, and scientists say it is partly to blame for climate change. "Wind power is healthier for the environment, more simple, and more economical," says Christo Pierce, an 18-year-old student at Upper Cape Tech, who has researched the usefulness of wind energy over fossil fuels.


Since 2006, students at Upper Cape Tech have been working on and studying a 10-kilowatt wind turbine installed on school grounds. Wind turns the turbine to generate electricity. Small wind turbines like the one at Upper Cape Tech can produce enough electricity to power three energy-efficient homes or part of a school. The school's turbine has produced 6,356 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy since installation. That is enough electricity to power a cell phone for more than 385 million minutes of talk time, or enough electricity to meet 187 Americans' electricity needs for one day.

The wind turbine at Upper Cape Tech has a trebuchet mount, like a catapult. Students can lower the turbine slowly to the ground by pushing a lever that makes the bottom of the tower go up. Once the turbine is at ground level, students can gather around to learn how to update hardware or conduct maintenance. When their work is complete, they lower the bottom of the tower and raise the turbine back into the air.

Early in the year, students also learn wind turbine basics: As turbine blades catch the wind, the spinning blades rotate shafts that turn a generator and create electricity. The shafts, generator, and computer parts are inside the nacelle, or the body of the turbine. Energy is sent through cables in the tower to a transformer that converts the electric current to a usable form of energy before it is connected to the school's electrical system.


Schools all across the country are installing wind turbines (see map, below). By using computer programs that plot the turbine's dally or monthly outputs, students can see exactly how much power their school's turbine is producing. Ron Boniella, a software engineer at Southwest Windpower in Flagstaff, Arizona, created one such computer program for the U.S. Department of Energy's Wind for Schools program, which brings turbines to rural schools. "The computer program gives the students the flexibility to customize a display of their turbine's performance," says Boniella.

Overall, 30 U.S. states have at least one school with a wind turbine through Wind for Schools and similar programs. This saves the schools money on their electric bills while allowing students to learn about clean, renewable energy. "I feel good about this program," says Christo of Upper Cape Tech.

Web extra

For more on the Wind for Schools Program, visit:


This map shows which U.S. states have school wind projects, or plan to have them. Does your state have any schools with their own wind turbines?



* What are several benefits of renewable energy?

* Can you name three fossil fuels that are used today to produce energy?

* If you could create a new science class for your school, what would it be?


* The amount of wind power in North Dakota alone is enough to produce more than 35 percent of the electricity used in the lower 48 states. (Unfortunately, transmitting that wind power over large distances is not feasible.)

* Many homeowners are now using small rooftop wind turbines that cost approximately $10,000 for the turbine and installation to help reduce their home's electric bills.


* There are plans to create an offshore wind farm in the waters around Cape Cod. Residents have split into two factions: one in favor of the wind farm's creation, and the other strongly opposed to its development. Divide the class into two groups representing each side. After conducting computer research, have both groups present their cases and debate them in class. (A good place to start research is: =SPECIAL01.)


HISTORY: The earliest windmills were developed in Persia sometime between 500 and 900 A.D. and have been used around the world through the ages. Research a historical windmill and present your findings to the class. Be sure to include information about the windmill's design, what it was used for, and any other important historical details. Begin your research by reading this timeline of windmills from the U.S. Department of Energy: /timelines/wind.html.


* Check out this Web site for students about all aspects of wind energy:

* Students engineer their own virtual wind turbines, test their efficiency, and get feedback about their design at: /fieldtrip shockwave.html?omsi_windmill.

* Watch a slide show about renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy's Web site: /energy_in_brief/slideshows/renewable_energy.html.

Sea Breeze

DIRECTIONS: The sentences below describe how a wind turbine generates power. Place the letters of the phrases in the order in which they occur from first to last.

a. Shafts turn a generator to create electricity.

b. Electricity runs through cables in the tower to a transformer.

c. Energy created by the wind turbine is connected to the school's electrical system.

d. Spinning blades rotate the shafts.

e. Transformer converts the electric current to a usable form of energy.

f. Turbine blades catch the wind.

(first) --, --, --, --, --, -- (last)


f, d, a, b, e, c
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Author:LeBlanc, Cecile
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 11, 2009
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