February 28, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 8

Sun, wind will power new sign

Members of the Haines High School Power Systems Engineering class recently hung an “LED banner board” on a wall at the front of the high school. The programmable sign displays information about school events.

A wind generator the class is building – combined with a solar panel built by a previous class – will sit atop the school and will power the sign as well as a piece of neon art or other display in the school’s open area, science teacher Mark Fontenot said this week.

“We’ll have enough power to power both the sign and some kind of display,” Fontenot said.

Besides teaching students basic engineering techniques – “how you use mathematics and physics to figure out if something is going to work” – the project will demonstrate to students “what kind of power is shining on the school and blowing past it,” Fontenot said.

The district launched the class two years ago, in part to capture federal money aimed at schools for improving technology curricula in the face of technological advances by other nations.

The project is educating the seven students in the class about wiring schematics, alternating and direct electrical power and principles of aerodynamics and alternative energy technology.

Eli White, a 16-year-old junior in the class, said the class used physics principles in designing the shape of the wind turbine, which involved three-dimensional modeling. “We learned a lot about the design process, what you have to do to design something, so when you build it, you don’t get into trouble.”

Karissa Land, an 18-year-old senior, said she appreciated learning the mathematics involved in the project, as well as mechanical aspects, like what a turntable bearing is. The class used physics equations to determine values including torque, she said.

Fontenot said because the class is challenging, it’s offered only when there are enough advanced students to comprise one. “It’s a high-level kind of deal. The students need to be ‘mathletes’ and very detail-oriented. This year’s batch of kids is great.”

The idea for the school sign arose from what to do with the approximate 1 kilowatt of power that the wind turbine and solar array would generate. The amount is too small to put a significant dent in the school’s electric bill. District secretary Ashley Sage suggested a sign like ones used by other schools to publicize events.

Students last fall wrote a grant request to the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation that paid about half of the sign’s $1,350 cost. The district matched that amount.

Fontenot said the sign came with pre-programmed graphics that the school won’t be using – like overflowing beer mugs used by commercial establishments. The sign is seven feet long and about 15 inches from top to bottom.

The class is building a“vertical axis” wind turbine from scratch. The 10-foot device designed by students will feature four, six-foot blades resembling a huge egg-beater. Students will test the turbine by driving it around on the back of a flatbed truck, Fontenot said.

Fontenot said he hopes to have the wind generator and solar panel combination operational by the end of the year. The devices will power four batteries in the “fan room” atop the high school.