In 2008, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) chose a handful of schools across the nation to be champions of wind energy education as a Wind Application Centers (WACs) in their respective states. Montana State University was among those first six schools, others includedKansas State University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Boise State University, South Dakota State University, and Colorado State University. In 2010, Appalachian State University (North Carolina), James Madison University (Virginia), Northern Arizona University, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Alaska joined the fold.
The Montana WAC focused initially on three primary goals:
- #1. Provide University-level education on a broad array of Wind Energy topics
- #2. Support NREL's companion Wind for Schools program by helping with installation of small wind turbines at a number of K-12 schools in the state
- #3. Serve as a resource to the state of Montana for wind energy information & technical support.
To address goal #1, the WAC has helped to support the development and maintenance of Montana State University coursework in Wind Energy and Renewable Energy. The WAC has provided employment to many student interns, sponsored a number of wind-related senior design projects, and delivered numerous Wind Energy lectures at MSU and beyond. ETME470 "Renewable Energy Applications" has been offered for 10 years now, and has grown to be one of the most popular professional elective courses in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering department.
Goal #2: In 2008 and 2010, WAC personnel and interns aided the NREL-designated state WfS Facilitator Western Community Energy with installation of 11 Skystream 3.7 turbines. These small 'residential-scale' units were installed at K-12 schools showing high levels of interest and involvement, as a means to educate and inspire students about renewable energy. In 2008, turbines were installed on the Montana State Univeristy campus, and at Livingston, Stanford, Cascade, and Fairfield. In 2010, host schools at Townsend, Lewiston, Valier, Forsyth, Wolf Point, and Glasgow joined the Montana Wind for Schools team. All turbines are owned by the respective host schools, who are responsible for their maintenance and support - with assistance from the WAC where possible. Turbines report performance data such as power generated, RPM, and other parameters via wireless interface. Initially this data was sent to a local computer, but that original system has been updated to a Raspberry Pi micro-controller system which reports data to the NREL-supported Open EI website. It is hoped that all ~150 WfS wind turbines across the country will eventually report data to this site, as a means of providing actual performance data for educational and research purposes.
The WAC's many outreach activities support Goal #3, and include conference presentations at the local, state, and national level, as well as educational events for MSU's Science Saturdays, Montana Outdoor Science School, Teacher education events, and several other local and regional activities.