International honor for wind energy work in Nicaragua

The University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering student organization Innovative Engineers has received international recognition for their wind energy project in Nicaragua. The group’s work is included in Sustainia100, a guide to 100 of the top global solutions in sustainability, unveiled last night at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Sustainia100 encompasses solutions from 56 countries on six continents.

"We are honored to be a part of this important work," says Paul Imbertson, Innovative Engineers’ advisor and a University of Minnesota Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty member. "The worldwide recognition of sustainable solutions brings important awareness to the credo of sustainability—creating development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."

For more than three years, Innovative Engineers have been using their technical education to power developing communities with wind energy. The engineering students designed, constructed and installed a wind turbine for the village of La Hermita, a half-hour ride up a dirt road from the city of Jinotega, Nicaragua. The turbine generates one kilowatt of electricity, enough to recharge the batteries used by La Hermita residents to power their lights at night and to operate their radios. Before the power from the turbine, villagers would travel to the nearest town by horseback to recharge batteries.

"They just wanted to be able to turn on a light bulb and listen to the radio so they could get their news and know what’s going on in the country," said Scott Morton, former president of Innovative Engineers and 2012 mechanical engineering graduate.

Innovative Engineers continues to teach the villagers about how the turbines work and how to repair them. An important component in the group’s construction of the turbine was that the materials used could be easily obtainable in Nicaragua if the turbine needs repairs. Future plans include wind turbines for hydropower, refinement of the turbine blade design, creation of a wind-speed meter and harnessing wave power.

"It may sound cliché, but our group is truly passionate about developing imaginative and creative ways to design and implement renewable energy technologies in the developing world," said David Giacomin, Innovative Engineers president and civil engineering student.