September 18, 2020

By ERIC MCKENZIE

Conestoga’s alternative energy students are going green by helping set the trend for renewable solar and wind energies.

The third-year electrical engineering technology class has designed in the last few months an electrical distribution system for a 2MW wind turbine that is being built in St. Agatha as a community co-operative project.

“The project is not only relevant to the alternative energy program and the students’ co-op placements but benefits the community as a whole,” said Karen Kokkelink, the teacher of the class.

The alternative energy students work in partnership with the Local Initiative for Future Energy (LIFE), a renewable energy co-operative based in Waterloo Region. LIFE’s aim is to help foster community-owned renewable power in Ontario.

Although one of LIFE’s current projects is to connect a wind turbine to the provincial electrical grid, few members are in the engineering field and are mainly community leaders who need help with the technical estimates.

“A lot of what this project is going to do is help those people who don’t have an electrical background understand the distribution system. So when they hire a professional firm they know what’s going on and they won’t be taken advantage of,” said project manager Dan Hoffmann. 

The students applied their skills and theory in a practical real-world project. At the same time they learned project management skills as they worked together with their groups for specific aspects of the design.  Most of the work for the project was done outside of class and on the students’ own time.

The students gained confidence through the project as they interacted in a professional manner with KW Hydro, ENERCON, LIFE and other groups outside of the college.

Lead engineer Ryan Schumacher said real work experience benefits a project such as the turbine, using his four-month work placement as a source to acquire information for the turbine project.

“A lot of people were depending on me to use my contacts in the industry and it helped,” said Schumacher.

Brandon Colman, another third-year student, worked at Stantech in Kitchener over the summer and his AutoCAD training also benefited the project as a whole.

Hal Thornton, another student of alternative energy, said the best part of the project was learning about and becoming aware of the emerging trend in the community of renewable energy.

“The more people you can get involved on any scale, that’s where the future’s at,” he said.

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