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Jamie Smith and Fezan IqbalJamie Smith, left, and Fezan Iqbal stand at the base of one of the wind turbine towers they work on.

Wind farm provides wealth of experience for students

The 88 turbines at Kruger Energy’s two wind farms on Lake Erie’s north shore are generating a great deal more than a steady supply of renewable energy.

Thanks to a solid relationship with a team of engineers at UWindsor, Kruger’s Port Alma wind farm is providing valuable work experience and research opportunities for students, while amassing a wealth of data that will help the Quebec-based company improve the long-term performance of its various wind operations.

“There aren’t a lot of people who have the same kind of access to wind farms that we enjoy and there’s such a high concentration of turbines around here,” said Jamie Smith, a master’s student in civil engineering who studies the impact of varying wind conditions on the structural integrity of the towers at the farm.

The farm, located south east of Tilbury, was commissioned in the fall of 2008 and generates enough energy to power about 30,000 Ontario households annually. About once a month Smith travels there to collect information gathered on a fibre optic data acquisition system set up on one of the towers. Wire gauges taped to the interior walls on all six levels of the 80 meter tower will remain there for three years to measure for any longitudinal deformation.

“We’re looking at loading of the tower,” he explained. “We want to know how much it’s bending. When it’s operating at maximum efficiency you get very significant loads. So basically, we measure of how distorted the gauge is compared to when you put it on.”

That data will be compared to information about various wind conditions collected from anemometers located both on the tower Smith is studying, and on a radio tower located upstream. Besides providing Smith – who is supervised by engineering professor Rupp Carriveau – with a wealth of research experience, his efforts provide Kruger with invaluable data about the durability and reliability of its equipment.

“We get a lot of good information from them,” said J.J. Davis, Kruger’s Ontario manager of maintenance and operations. “It’s really about having confidence in the quality of the equipment we’re using here. Kruger really stands to benefit a fair amount from this relationship.”

Besides monitoring the towers, seismic vibration sensors buried slightly below ground about 20 metres away from the tower measure how soil responds to turbine loading.

“We want to understand the relationship between the tower, the foundation and the soil that’s surrounding it,” said Dr. Carriveau.

Electrical engineering masters student Fezan Iqbal is on a five month co-op placement at the same wind farm, helping to plan the summer maintenance shutdown there.

“It’s a very lengthy process with a long list of jobs that have to be performed,” he said. “I’m learning a lot. This is exactly what my field of study is, so I’m very lucky to be here. They’re really great people to work with. They’re very helpful and they’re teaching me so much.”

Davis said his company strives to foster good relationships with regulatory authorities, municipalities, surrounding property owners and the educational sector, and is glad to provide the students with an opportunity.

“We’re very happy with the University of Windsor,” he said. “It’s a real high-energy team.”