Grid Scale, Project Development, Solar, Storage, Wind Power

3 Ways Students Are Transforming Renewable Energy Practices

Maybe it’s the nature of the “new”: Although the renewable energy movement has been gathering momentum for several decades now, it’s still the young citizens who are primarily transforming the industry, and pushing for greater innovation and higher adoption rates.

Unfortunately, many of these activists don’t have a strong platform to bring their work to market unless they’re already connected to a laboratory or energy organization, or participating in a competition, such as the 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Thus, it’s incumbent on the rest of us to bring these innovations to a greater audience.

What have students been working on lately? Here’s a sample of three incredible projects that are emerging, from elementary school students on up, that the renewables industry needs to know about.

1. Wind Energy Winners

If you want to meet wind energy innovators, look no further than the KidWind Challenge, a competition for students in the 4th to 12th grades. Participants start off in regional qualifying rounds in their home state, and the top teams move on to the National KidWind Challenge.

During the 2016-2017 school year, the national competition will be held in Anaheim, California. What happens at the KidWind Challenge?

Through the competition, young scientists learn to build wind turbines and are judged on their machine’s design and performance as well as on their knowledge of the wind-energy industry. While most fourth graders are still building baking-soda-and-vinegar volcanoes, these youthful scholars are engaging with one of the fastest-growing new industries and learning about the environmental and economic value of renewable energy.

2. Kinetic Energy Keepers

One established form of kinetic energy storage is known as a flywheel energy storage (FES) system. FES is interesting because it’s contingent on the use of electromagnetism.

The idea is that a levitating, rotating cylinder is necessary to facilitate energy storage. Though FES systems have been used in many different applications for decades, there have been few improvements to this tool beyond material composition changes in recent years.

Enter Abigail Carson, an undergraduate student at Lancaster University in the UK. Carson has designed a modified FES that can best be described as possessing a permanently levitated cylinder.

Since the cylinder remains in a constant state, the FES system also requires little-to-no maintenance or user input, which makes it ideal for remote applications.

3. A Small Place with Big Ideas

Most people don’t know much about Tasmania, an island off the southeast coast of Australia that’s part of that country, but at Huon High in rural Tasmania, students are doing remarkable work to design sustainable strategies that can be put to work at their school.

Now they’re in the running for the Global High Schools Zayed Future Energy Prize, a prestigious award intended to motivate students to pursue careers in sustainable energy. Among the students’ designs are ideas for a windmill and bicycle-powered mobile movie theatre.

If the school wins the grand prize of US$100,000, the students will be able to build some of these designs while also implementing an Energy Training certificate course at the school that will put kids on the path to careers in the renewables industry.

By bringing attention to student work, we can put pressure on established scientists and the broader, environmentally minded community to push their ideas further and bring them to market.

Students are naturally inquisitive and passionate, and they’re less likely to be jaded by industry expectations and preconceptions. We all stand to benefit from their work.

Lead image credit: energy.gov