Bama Wins At Football, But What About Wind Tech?

So the University of Alabama is the national collegiate football champion after its thumping of Notre Dame the other night. But which U.S. university is tops when it comes to wind energy? Strange as it sounds, there’s going to be a competition to find out.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is soliciting entrants for the first ever National Collegiate Wind Competition. The NREL’s plan is to back 10 teams of undergraduates with $25,000 apiece to help “design and construct a light-weight, transportable wind turbine that can be used to power small electronics (e.g., cell phone, computer, etc. to be defined in the Rules and Requirements Document).”

OK, so we’re not talking about giant, utility-scale turbines here. In fact, the solicitation notes that in order to undergo a required test in a wind tunnel, the turbine prototypes cannot exceed “45 centimeters (cm) x 45 cm” – about 18 inches.

In addition to the wind tunnel test, teams will be judged on their business plans and presentations. As the contest reaches its climax in spring 2014, there will also be a “wind energy debate” intended to measure “understanding of issues and communication of unique ideas.”

One good thing about that: Nobody’s likely to suffer a concussion, although a headache might be possible.

“The National Collegiate Wind Competition is a forum for undergraduate college students of multiple disciplines to investigate innovative wind energy concepts; gain experience designing, building, and testing a wind turbine to perform according to a customized market data-derived business plan; and increase their knowledge of wind industry barriers,” the Department of Energy, which oversees the NREL, said in a statement. “Teams will gain and then demonstrate knowledge of technology, finance, accounting, management, and marketing, providing lifelong technical and business skills.”

Very good – teams will gain knowledge. But will there be any other perks for the winner? For sure: Fame, the DOE said. “In addition to this national recognition, the turbine from the college or university with the best overall score will be placed on temporary display at the DOE Headquarters building in Washington, D.C.”

Schools interested in participating in the competition should check out solicitation number RFC-3-23003 posted at the Federal Business Opportunities website.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.