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Study investigates Hopi wind power potential

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MESA, Ariz. – The Rosebud Sioux Tribe in Sioux Falls, S.D., invested in wind energy more than two years ago as a way to provide energy for its community. Now it’s considering expanding to a commercial wind farm and selling the excess, but the tribe is finding that profiting from the energy is a bit more difficult than it first thought.

Before the Hopi Nation finds itself caught in the same gust of producing energy for its community and selling the excess, the Hopi Tribal Council contacted the Department of Engineering at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa to study whether the huge investment would be worth it.

The initial area that ASU will investigate is on a reservation mesa next to land identified as the location for a new Hopi village located in northeastern Arizona. The Hopis are also investigating wind on land between Flagstaff and Winslow, an area that is considered to have wind speeds suitable for wind energy development, based on prior research and studies by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program.

“We will monitor wind speed, frequency, duration and weather to see if wind energy is an alternate, clean option to power two new villages and older ones, as well as potential for economic viability,” said Mark Henderson, engineering professor at the Polytechnic campus.

What prompted the Hopi’s interest? A planned shutdown of the power generating station in Laughlin, Nev., while air pollution scrubbers are installed on its tall stacks – a project that will take at least two years to complete.

In addition to the potential economic impact, a switch to wind will have a dramatic impact on the environment, as there are no byproducts produced from the operation of wind turbines, unlike the coal plant, except maybe one – the experience for ASU students is priceless.

The Hopi Wind Turbine Assessment Project is an opportunity for the first class of engineering students at the Polytechnic campus to work on a real-world hands-on project, where they are analyzing data and providing solutions that address the needs of a community. “The year-long project not only gives an applied experience for students, but it also gives them a short immersion in another culture, one that many know very little about,” said Henderson.

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On March 3 and 4, 30 ASU students participated in erecting a metal tower and equipping it with a wireless connection and instrumentation to capture wind speed and direction, temperature and barometric pressure. The data will be collected daily on a computer located more than 150 miles away on ASU’s Polytechnic campus.

“Bringing together engineering undergraduates with graduate students from the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering Technology will enable data analysis and model creation that will help with making sound economic as well as technological turbine recommendations,” said Henderson.

As the actual tower is more than 150 feet tall and weighs nearly 1.5 tons, it was raised professionally. However, students had their own tower raising experience on the Polytechnic campus back in December.

“Students built their own 30-foot tower using polyurethane piping and following the specifications that came with the actual tower,” said Henderson. “Students got a good lesson in physics, engineering precision and materials science from the experience.”

In addition to the wind research, faculty members will visit Hopi High School and teach alternative energy and engineering topics in sciences classes to pique student interest in engineering and alternative energy.

If the results of the study and analysis are positive, this could be one of the first wind turbines operated by an American Indian tribe located in Arizona.

“There are about 13,000 Hopis living on the reservation, and some of the villages have no electricity from the outside. Some use solar power. If we prove that their return in wind turbines will be larger than the investment, this will influence the community for generations to come,” said Henderson.