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Ellensburg Makes CWU Wind Research a Breeze

CWU professor Greg Lyman stands in front of sensors, some built by CWU students, which measure pressure changes, vibrations, and stress created from the Ellensburg winds.

Cursed by some, Ellensburg’s stiff winds are a blessing to Greg Lyman, associate professor of Electronics Engineering Technology at Central Washington University, who says they have proven invaluable to his research.

Lyman is in the third year of a multi-year grant from the National Science Foundation that funds his research measuring the impact of wind on energy-generating equipment atop high-rise buildings. Central, which received $109,661, partnered with the University of Washington and Florida International University, in applying for the $350,000 grant.

“The reason we’re a good test site is that the wind pretty much comes from that direction, almost always,” he said, pointing toward the Cascades. “Ellensburg is a perfect site, naturally, for this study.”

Lyman, who is also the chair of CWU’s Faculty Senate, said solar panels installed on the roof of Hogue Hall shortly after its renovation in 2011 were ideal for the study. Additionally, during the past two years, a handful of student employees helped design testing equipment and software to measure air pressure, wind vibration, and stress on the panels.

“We had to develop a lot of the software from scratch, and students have done much of that work,” he said, adding that many of the instrument parts were fabricated by CWU students using 3D printers.

“Students have been involved at every turn in this whole thing,” he explained. “They have done the majority of the work and they have been awesome. They did a lot of the programming and wiring. I basically guided and provided overall direction, and they went with it. We have great students here.”

Hand-in-hand with Central’s efforts, Florida International, which has experience measuring hurricane forces in a wind tunnel, has constructed an exact duplicate of the solar panel structure on the roof of Hogue inside a massive wind tunnel on its campus in Miami.

The University of Washington will help analyze the data once it has all been collected and researchers from all three institutions will collaborate on the published findings.

Lyman said the impetus for the research is that few cities or locations in the U.S. have building code requirements for solar panels, wind turbines, or other roof-top energy systems. He said knowing how much wind a roof structure can accommodate will prove useful in drafting future building codes.

He noted that the Hogue panels were probably “over-engineered,” because of the heavy metal frame constructed to hold them but, in the absence of building codes, it would have been difficult for a contractor to know how sturdy to build the frame.

Lyman said in the past year testing has indicated the wind speed in Ellensburg averages in the 20s (miles per hour) with the highest gusts recorded at nearly 55 miles per hour. He said the FIU wind tunnel will generate winds of up to 120 miles per hour.

“We’re trying to get to the point of what we call, ‘destructive testing,’” he said. “Then we’ll see how well they stand up.”

Lyman said his hope is that through such research, Central will become known as “the place” for developing and conducting wind stress tests.

“In fact, I think it will happen as soon as we get the results of our tests published,” he added.

Media contact: Richard Moreno, Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-2714, Richard.Moreno@cwu.edu.

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