POTSDAM — Clarkson University student Chad M. Southwick has taken to heart his lessons in the mechanics of sustainable energy.
Not only did he intern for General Electric's wind power division last summer, he returned to Clarkson this fall with the goal of pitching to the college community the idea of erecting a wind turbine on the hill campus.
The Massena native worked with Kenneth D. Visser, an associate professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering, to craft a proposal and survey students about the idea as part of an independent study project this fall.
"The wind conditions in Potsdam aren't exactly the most favorable in the world, but they're close enough to be economically feasible where we could make the case for a wind turbine," Mr. Southwick said. "I realized there was enough work to be done to make it official, working on this for some credit. So I'm not doing this just for the fun of it."
The senior mechanical engineering major thinks Clarkson would benefit greatly from installing a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine.
Mr. Southwick estimates it would cost about $5 million to ship and erect a 260-foot turbine near the village water tower, in the wooded area of campus west of Clarkson's Center for Advanced Materials Processing.
Using data gathered at the college's wind analysis test site near the Potsdam Airport, Mr. Southwick estimated that a 1.5 megawatt turbine would produce 2,770,000 kilowatt-hours each year, representing about 10.5 percent of Clarkson's energy use.
Last year, the college's power bills for the hill campus totaled about $3 million. Assuming the cost of electricity remains constant, the turbine would pay for itself in energy savings in 15 years, Mr. Southwick said.
Not only would the project help offset high energy prices and reduce the college's carbon footprint, it could attract environmentally conscious students, Mr. Southwick said.
"Actually the biggest selling point when we're pitching this to university officials is that there would be an actual increase in prospective students and an increasing interest in renewable energy among current students," he said. "They know that that's where a lot of jobs are, and it's not just that — they want to do something that actually has an impact. Everybody knows how serious the energy crisis is right now."
Mr. Southwick also suggested the turbine could be used as a "laboratory," using remote sensors to teach students about the technology. More than that, it would be a symbol of a greener Clarkson and could be a major selling point for the university, "literally putting the college on the map," he said.
"Even if my project doesn't pan out, as long as it got the Clarkson community to think about forms of alternative and renewable energy and how it's used, it was a success," Mr. Southwick said.
With the help of Clarkson's Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, Mr. Southwick recently conducted a survey to gauge student and staff support for a wind turbine on campus.
Of the nearly 600 respondents, 95 percent thought that the university should "pursue renewable energy" and the same amount agreed that the college should "seriously consider" erecting a wind turbine that would power 10 percent of the campus.
Only 9 percent surveyed thought a turbine would be a blight on the campus and surrounding area, Mr. Southwick said.
He has recruited a small group of interested students who hope to take on similar independent study projects to air the idea before town and village planning officials and to use a grant to hire an outside firm to do a feasibility study.
They might present the idea to Clarkson's board of trustees as soon as this spring, if all goes well.
Mr. Southwick, who graduates in December, has been accepted into GE's Edison Engineering Development Program.