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Wind Turbine Science Projects

Below are plans, ideas, and other relevant information for building basic to advanced wind turbines for large classroom experiments or for individual science fair projects. Check out our wind power basics page for information on how wind energy works.

1) Getting Started

Before building a wind turbine for a project, we recommend that you have a working knowledge of wind energy concepts, so that when you test your turbine, you have a basic idea of which variables to test. Please take a look at our learn about wind section. This section has tons of information on wind turbine design, blade design, electricity and power output, wind meteorology, and much more.

Building your own wind turbine from scratch is not a simple task! You first need to make a list of the parts and materials that go into making a wind turbine. We have compiled this list to help you get started. Many of these materials are available at the Kidwind shop, but creative, unique designs are always encouraged!

Electrical Materials

You might need to do some basic soldering to connect wires to motors. The multimeters and alligator clips are used to hook up the measuring devices. Understanding the electrical output can be confusing, but you can learn more about it here.

Building Materials

This list depends on what type of turbine you are going to build. If you are all going to build similar models then you can keep it simple. If you are looking for lots of variability then you can open things up.

  • A Hub to attach your blades to your generator
  • Balsa wood, PVC pipe and fittings, dowels, plastic cardboard, fabric, and other building materials you may want to use
  • Gears, pulleys, tinker toys, k'nex, legos
  • Construction tools, hammers, small saws, scissors, exacto knives, glue guns, PVC cutters
  • Safety goggles

Other testing materials:

(Not required but sure are neat!)

Don't forget that you can find most of these materials in the KidWind Shop. Check out the Science Fair Kit and the Basic Turbine Building Parts if you want the basic materials to build your own turbine.

Time to Build

There are many different plans and designs, but they all share a few things in common. No matter what kind of model turbine you build, it will require some of the same parts as a real wind turbine. You need a tower, a generator on top of the tower (unless it is a weightlifting turbine!), a hub, some blades, and of course wind! You will also need some materials to build your wind turbine. The Kidwind Shop has a lot of great materials for building model turbines, but you might not find everything you need there.

Experiment!

This page demonstrates an example setup of a wind turbine experiment. This activity focuses on variables to keep in mind when recording and interpreting power output. Remember that a good scientific experiment should follow the scientific method:

  • 1. Ask a question (i.e. What effect does wind speed have on voltage?)
  • 2. Do background research
  • 3. Construct a hypothesis
  • 4. Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment
  • 5. Analyze your data and draw a conclusion
  • 6. Change variables and repeat tests
  • 7. Communicate your results

Learn more about the scientific method.

What is a wind turbine experiment?

We'll begin with the equation that determines how much power you can produce with your wind turbine (from awea.org)

P = 0.5 x rho x A x Cp x V^3(cubed) x Ng x Nb

  • P = power in watts (746 watts = 1 hp) (1,000 watts = 1 kilowatt)
  • rho = air density (about 1.225 kg/m3 at sea level, less higher up)
  • A = rotor swept area, exposed to the wind (m2)
  • Cp = Coefficient of performance (.59 (Betz limit) is the maximum theoretically possible, .35 for a good design)
  • V = wind speed in meters/sec (20 mph = 9 m/s)
  • Ng = generator efficiency (50% for car alternator, 80% or possibly more for a permanent magnet generator or grid-connected induction generator)
  • Nb = gearbox/bearings efficiency (depends, could be as high as 95% if good)

In order to see the effects these variables have on the power output of a wind turbine, you have to set up an experiment to test each variable. In a wind turbine experiment, when you change one variable, remember to keep all other variables constant.

Setup

You will need to setup a model wind turbine and a fan. You will also need some kind of meter to measure the power output of your data, unless you are using your turbine to do non-electrical work such as weight lifting.

Here are some materials besides a turbine and fan that you may want for the experiment:

  • Tape: (for marking a constant spot for your turbine to remain)
  • Multimeter: or some kind of meter or load device that will measure the amount of electricity your turbine produces.
  • Wind Speed Meter: If you want to see how wind speed affects power output, you should use an anemometer to measure the wind speed of your fan.

Fans: you should use a floor fan that has at least 3 settings so you can experiment with how wind speed affects power output. We recommend a fan that has a diameter of at least 20" and that can be propped to the height of your turbine. Lasko fans are usually good.

Variables

  • The main variables that you should keep in mind for your experiment are:
  • 1) Swept area of your rotor
  • 2) Coefficient of performance (this will actually include all aspects of turbine and blade design, discussed below and on other sections of our site)
  • 3) Wind speed
  • 4) Generator (unless you really know about generators, it is advisable to keep the motor constant in your experiments)
  • 5) Gear ratio attached to your generator

For a more thorough discussion of variables, please read our learn about wind section.

  • Blade Design: without blades, your turbine wouldn’t produce any electricity. Some factors to consider:
    • Size
    • Shape
    • Number
    • Pitch
    • Weight
    • Material
    • Wind speed: Most fans have 3 different speed settings. You can also change the wind speed by moving your turbine closer or further from the fan.
  • Wind tunnel: If you’re really serious and want non-turbulent wind, you can try to smooth the air by making a wind tunnel.
  • Generators: You will need a generator that produces recordable voltage at relatively low RPM. For a discussion about generators, click here.
  • Gear ratios: You may want to attach a gear system to your generator. For more information about gear ratios, we have a Quick Lesson on gear ratios.

Sample Experiments

When conducting an experiment, decide which variables you want to test. Do you want to know how wind speed affects power output? Or do you wan to know how the number of blades affects power output? You can set up different experiments to test different variables. Here are a few examples. Remember to only change one variable per experiment.

Voltage based on wind speed (mph)

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4v
3v
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7 mph 8 mph 9 mph 10 mph 11 mph 12 mph

Voltage based on Blade pitch (degrees)

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4v
3v
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1v
5 deg 15 deg 25 deg 35 deg 45 deg 55 deg

Voltage based on blade shape

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4v
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1v
Rectangle Trapezoid Triangle Bowl Twist Bart Simpson