BERLIN – On a windy, cool morning, Stephen Decatur Middle School science teacher Doug Romano points proudly to an unassuming pole topped with a gently spinning wind turbine, the first school-based wind turbine in Maryland.
The wind turbine, after months of planning, is ready to take up its place as part of a school initiative to teach students about alternative energy and make them more informed citizens, Romano explained.
Plans call for the three spinning blades of the wind turbine to power a laptop computer, which will record wind and energy data.
Eventually, Romano said, he hopes to plug several computers into the marine batteries storing the wind power.
Then, if the turbine can provide enough energy, he’d like to hook up the soft drink machine in the cafeteria, which will show students a direct result of alternative energy.
“We’re not solving the world energy crisis here. It’s a model to show how it can work,” Romano said.
Romano teamed up with technology education teacher Pat Lieb to get the project going and create an academic program using the data from the model wind turbine.
The project is not about supplying energy to the school building. Romano emphasized that the energy generated by the wind turbine will be kept separate.
“This is off grid,” he said. “All the energy is going into the batteries.”
The model project will teach students to be more energy conscious, as well as better future consumers who will be less dependent on fossil fuels.
Romano and Lieb will use the wind initiative as a working model for class projects, while math teachers can use data generated by the turbine to work with equations on average wind speed or energy costs saved.
“It’s a good project to show how different curricula are related,” Romano said.
“Everyone’s doing a different aspect,” Lieb said.
The wind turbine is a core part of a student service learning project, which has already looked at recycling and local waterways. Students will produce a brochure on wind energy for their project.
“It’s a teaching tool so the kids can see it’s viable,” Lieb said.
When Romano first started looking at alternative energy, he considered solar power, but decided it was too expensive for classroom use. After moving to the Eastern Shore, he hit upon wind power.
His students did the background study on whether wind power would be viable. Students also explored the effect of different blade shapes on a turbine, using paper blades. Next, Romano wrote a grant request for $900, which the local Optimist Club granted. After getting approvals from the school system and local governments, which took several months, Choptank Electric donated the installation of the pole and turbine.
“By the end of the week, we should be generating enough electricity to power several laptops or other electrical devices,” said Lieb, whose classroom will host Wind Station Alpha, containing two batteries to store the wind energy, as well as a laptop computer and a device to measure electricity usage.
“Kids are asking all kinds of questions,” Romano said. “So far it has generated a great amount of interest. That’s part of what I wanted to do.”