During the past school year and into last summer, one class at the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology at Hartford High School in Connecticut worked with a utilities expert and neighboring corporate partner United Technologies to design and build a solar-powered wind turbine that would generate electricity for a rural school in Saldang, Nepal.
This PBL endeavor was funded by the Connecticut-based Werth Family Foundation with the intention of providing enough electricity—using the abundant wind in the Saldang area—to light and heat the school, as well as power its computers. The Academy of Engineering and Green Technology is operated by the National Academy Foundation, a network of career-themed programs for high-school students around the country, with a graduation rate of around 99 percent.
For most school days over five months, the 15 students donned hard hats and safety goggles to work with power tools and milling machines to create and test parts of the new turbine. They used Excel spreadsheets to manage the project’s personnel, time sheets, and budget.
The students did extensive web research on climate, air density, and the solar panels that would power the turbines. They analyzed the differences between vertical and horizontal wind turbines, and energy inverters and converters. They also researched Nepalese geography and culture.
The students then recommended the vertical wind turbine with solar panels attached. In a presentation to the funder, the students explained their research and used a mocked-up model of the proposed turbine to demonstrate how it would perform when built next to the school.
To assemble the actual turbine and test its effectiveness, the class had to interpret computer assisted design (CAD) drawings and use gauges to measure wind speed and solar energy. The students made a video of every step in the assembly process and compiled an illustrated manual for later use in Nepal. One of the students, who was from Nepal, even translated the instructions.
The class finished this past July. The turbine began operating at the school in Nepal in September.