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This Year’s Midland Experience

By Andreas Karelas - For the third year in a row, blueEnergy has sent a team down to Los Olivos, California to teach the sophomore class at Midland High School how to build a wind turbine from scratch. The workshop is part of Midland’s innovative “experiential week” where students tackle hands-on projects to complement their classroom learning. Each year the sophomores stay on campus to spend the week learning about renewable energy and to install a 2.5 kW solar array.

Mathias Craig, blueEnergy Executive Director, attended Midland (class of 1996) making it all the more meaningful for him and for the students. Now that we’ve been down there the last three years, those of us who are returning blueEnergy team members feel right at home when we get back to Midland. It’s many of the same friendly faculty faces that work with us year after year, who house us, cook for us and take care of us while at Midland.

This year’s sophomore class of 23 students was double the size of last year’s class and required a few tweaks in the program. We also incorporated last year’s feedback to improve the content and organization of the workshop, making it run ever more smoothly.

This year’s workshop featured six blade-carving stations where students built two complete blade rotors, a magnet station where every student learned about the power of rare-earth Neodymium magnets and a coil winding station where students wound, soldered and wired up a stator for the wind generator.

The team consisted of Mathias Craig, Executive Director, Tim Kent, intern in the San Francisco office, Andreas Karelas, former blueEnergy volunteer in Nicaragua, Jamie Sebora, photographer extraordinaire and Mathias’ classmate at Midland, and Garett Maggart, the woodworking champion.

Led by Lise Goddard, head of Midland’s Environment Program, the Midland faculty members are also getting more familiar with our workshop and were able to play crucial roles in organizing and teaching the students everything from blade carving to coil winding to magnet placing.

In the evenings, our discussions this year focused more on off-grid renewable energy systems, climate change, the importance of appropriate technology, and blueEnergy’s experience in Nicaragua, and less on the physics theory that the students will see in the classroom next year as juniors. The students were very engaged every step of the way and got deep into thinking about how energy is generated and managed and the tremendous impact it has on our lives. This will serve the students well as they continue their studies and think about the impact they want to have on the world outside of school.

With excellent food, good company, a group of students that were eager to work hard and take ownership of their projects, a supportive faculty, and a stellar blueEnergy team, this year’s workshop turned out to be a great success. It even included some intense afternoon and evening basketball games with mixed blueEnergy – Midland teams.

For the first time we assembled all the pieces of the turbine, mounted it on an 8-foot stand and let it spin in the wind. This was satisfying for all of us having put in two days into crafting every component. The turbine generated a record of 14 volts, lighting up a bulb for all to see.

The final night in a summer camp-like manner we gathered around the wind turbine lit up with solar powered Christmas lights and played guitar and sang together to celebrate our work.

Pictures from the workshop can be seen here.

A great time was had by all, and I know the blueEnergy team can’t wait to return again next year.

blueEnergy would like to give special thanks to Will and Marguerite Graham for welcoming us on campus, Lise Goddard and all the participating faculty for their tremendous help putting this whole thing on, Jamie Seborer for the photography, Garett Maggart for his exceptional woodworking skills, the sophomore class for their energy and enthusiasm and for their support assembling the workshop materials.

Andreas Karelas is a blueEnergy alum who volunteered in Nicaragua in 2007 working on the initial Monkey Point wind and solar installation.  He now lives in San Francisco and runs a community based solar organization called RE-volv that lets anyone and everyone chip in to help build renewable energy projects in the United States