Kobeski and Bermudez speak at the 2018 U.S. Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition.

The U.S. wind industry has grown significantly in recent years, with more and more wind energy being added to the country’s power generation mix. Given this growth, in 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched the Collegiate Wind Competition (CWC), a program that allows undergraduate college students from a variety of educational disciplines to build the skills, experience, and professional connections needed to launch careers in wind energy. The program is comprised of two different competitions that provide students with real-world experience: the first is to design, build, and test a wind turbine; and the second is to develop and site a hypothetical wind project.

Two Invenergy employees - Connor Kobeski, Senior Manager, Renewable Engineering, and Santiago Bermudez, Project Manager, Renewable Project Management - served as project development judges in 2018, and again in 2020 for the competition. As judges, Kobeski and Bermudez evaluated the teams based on the following criteria: site selections and identification of potential challenges, layout and resource assessments; community and environmental impacts and mitigation approaches; evaluation of annual operating costs, bankability and other financial considerations; knowledge of market opportunities and constraints; and written reports and PowerPoint presentations.

Not only do the students spend an entire year investigating key aspects of wind farm siting and development activities, they are also given a blind challenge at the competition where they are given one hour to come up with the best answer. In 2018, Kobeski created a mock location with various parameters and asked the participants to site a 40-turbine wind farm and then justify why their choice was the best way to site the project. This exercise tested the participants’ ability to use industry programs and software, such as OpenWind and GIS. “I am impressed that even without industry work experience and the resources of a company, these university students are able to research and get creative to produce development plans that are remarkably close to reality,” said Kobeski, observing the similarities to our day-to-day work at Invenergy.

While the competition is typically held at the annual AWEA CLEANPOWER Conference, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s competition was virtual in May and June, ensuring the students could still present their findings and showcase their hard work. Students had already spent months preparing for a live competition and key components like turbine tests and face-to-face networking had to be changed or removed all together due to the virtual format. Bermudez was impressed with how the students handled the adjustments. “I liked seeing how the kids stood up to the challenge with everything that happened with COVID-19 and how they handled all the uncertainty going into the event,” he said.

Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, the CWC and judges were able to support and maximize the students learning experiences through virtual tools. Congratulations to California State University Maritime Academy and James Madison University who claimed the top awards for the Turbine Design and Project Development 2020 competition. “These students have the potential to be the next great generation of the wind industry,” Kobeski said.