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Breezing Through Clean Energy Projects

WPI's Interactive Project asks students to work in teams toward a solution for a defined techno-social problem. Here are summaries of three such projects advised by Stephen W. Pierson, associate professor of physics, that have focused on alternative energy.

By Laurance S. Morrison

Siting Offshore Wind Farms in Nantucket Sound

Which of two proposed sites in Nantucket Sound is better for an offshore wind farm? This project, funded by the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources and the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, took into account 13 factors in its conclusions. The technical, physical and social factors ranged from the location of shipwrecks and undersea cables to water depths and wind speed, to the effects on birds, shipping lanes and fishing activities, to the visual impact. The project found that both proposed sites are adequate, and produced detailed maps incorporating many of the factors investigated using GIS (Geographical Information System) software. The study also made clear that the complex matter of specific siting involves balancing and integrating the benefits and disadvantages intricately posed by the 13 interrelated factors.

Expanding the Princeton, Mass., Wind Farm

Supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and WPI, the project assessed an operating wind farm and its potential for expansion. After the WPI students confirmed that the wind resource was adequate for commercial use, they found the best layout for new turbines, determined the need for additional study on the effects on the bird population, and saw that the public varies in its support and opposition owing to the trade-offs of clean energy and visual and noise impacts. The study, co-advised by civil engineering Professor Paul Mathisen, concluded that the Princeton Municipal Light Department can step up its wind energy electrical output from the current less than 1 percent of the town's needs to at least 10 percent with the purchase of the larger, more efficient wind turbines on the market today.

Improving Hill-Tribe Education in Thailand With Solar Power

The Hill-tribe villages of Thailand are isolated from the rest of the country, geographically and culturally. Villagers are limited in their ability to interact with the rest of the nation because they speak a different language and do not have adequate education to learn the Thai language. A WPI student project team traveled to a few remote villages to see if maintainable photovoltaic systems could be installed there--without unduly impacting the tribes' culture--to power TVs and VCRs that could augment the villagers' ability to learn Thai. The students lived with the villagers and learned that they were familiar with solar power and anxious to have it in their villages. They assembled a solar system and made a return trek to a larger village to install it on the roof of the school. The students feel confident their work can allow other villages to install solar systems to help them prepare for the encroachment of the modern world.

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