Withernsea High School

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Students become Design Engineers in renewable energy challenge

15 March 2024 (by admin)

Year 7 students at Withernsea High School have enjoyed an introduction to the world of sustainable energy thanks to their participation in a project designed to engage young learners in engineering and business concepts.

Embracing the role of Design Engineers, the students got to grips with ‘Supergrid’ - a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) activity that explores the construction and efficiency of wind turbines.

Collaborating in small groups, with each team representing a different European country, students were tasked with building a working model of a turbine in an attempt to create the most cost-effective and energy-efficient design for their wind energy business. In doing so, they learned how design, shape, angles and position are crucial for the effective harnessing of wind energy.

The teams were given access to a central supply of construction materials including card and plastic for blade construction, plus rods and connectors from the K’Nex construction toy system, which were used to build the turbine towers. Desktop fans replicated the wind required to turn the blades and multimeters were used to monitor the power being generated.

Each model was then connected to a wireless transmitter which sent live readings to a central computer. This data collection system enabled real-time competition, with the readings displayed on a screen at the front of the classroom. This was visualised as a map of Europe, with each ‘country’ displaying its turbine power output in milliwatts.

The efficiency of each design was closely monitored, encouraging further modifications and additional testing to compete with the other designs. The live results system was particularly effective in helping teams to refine their blade designs – ultimately revealing that a uniformed, streamlined design was the most effective.

Throughout the competition, symbols on the screen indicated when students should decrease and increase the power of the fan, replicating real life changes in wind speed. At the end of each round, the surplus energy was offset against turbine construction costs and charges to customers to reveal each team’s profit. 

Alongside the hands-on nature of the day’s challenge, the Supergrid activity also provided a platform for discussions about relevant careers, skills and pathways in the renewable energy industry.

Leading the day’s activities was Mike Cargill, Director of UKSTEM, who said: “The purpose of the Supergrid session was to open minds as to what is happening locally in the energy industry, with a particular focus on renewables. Supergrid is a hands-on and practical business game where success comes from using Science, Maths and Engineering skills and combining them with financial decisions.

“The Year 7 students swiftly engaged with this competitive game and were able to experience some of the emotions of aiming to beat their competitors by improving the efficiency of their turbine installations. Students used and improved many skills throughout the day including teamworking, creativity and attention to detail. Additionally, they showed exceptional resilience and problem-solved at all stages to keep their turbines going.

“Working with the school’s Careers Leader, Viki Foster, we are hoping that opportunities such as the Supergrid project will equip students with a better understanding of their options later on in their education.”

Viki added: “The Supergrid day provided an excellent opportunity for a number of our Year 7 students to get hands-on with an exciting and educational STEM challenge, which they approached with great enthusiasm and maturity. It also offered an opportunity for them to learn about local labour market information and the career opportunities in renewable energy that exist in the local area. The students were interested to discover the wide variety of roles available within the sector, not just relating to the physical engineering and manufacturing skills required, but additional roles in areas such as legal and financial management.”

ABOVE: Mike Cargill, Director of UKSTEM, assists students with their model turbine during the Supergrid challenge. 


ABOVE: Students worked in teams to build model turbines with greatest energy efficiency.  

ABOVE: Desktop fans replicated the wind needed to power the turbines. 

ABOVE: Key to the success of the turbines was the blade design. 

ABOVE: Wireless transmitters were used to send data to a central computer, where each team's progress was monitored on a live map. 

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