Just how windy is our campus?

Anemometers on light poles are measuring wind speed to assess energy potential

By Jim Fessenden and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

March 14, 2011

On a bitterly cold day in February, UMass Medical School workers installed a pair of devices designed to measure wind speed and direction on the top levels of the South Road and First Road parking garages. Called anemometers, these common weather station instruments are being used to determine if there’s enough wind blowing at these locations to generate electricity using small-scale wind turbines. 

Outfitted with cup-type sails, each anemometer is affixed to a light pole and connected to a data device at its base that will log the speed and the direction of the wind over the next six months. If sustained wind speeds fall within the 2 to 10 mph range, that could be enough to make installing small wind turbines, similar to those at the Walmart on Route 146, feasible. Weighing approximately 320 pounds, each turbine can produce as much as 3,200 to 4,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. That’s roughly enough energy to provide 50 percent of the power needed for a modest-sized home. 

“Part of our commitment to sustainability includes exploring avenues for utilizing renewable energy sources,” said Melissa Lucas, sustainability and energy manager. “Because the campus is situated in an urban setting, we’re limited in the scope of what we can do with wind-generated power. It’s possible, though, that a small-scale wind turbine might be used to produce electricity for the campus.” 

Currently available wind maps for the region suggest that sustained wind levels aren’t high enough to make a wide-scale installation of wind turbines feasible or economical. However, the available maps are based on wind readings taken in the surrounding neighborhood and at best are an approximation of actual wind speeds on campus. As anybody who has walked across campus knows, strong winds are not uncommon. 

“We don’t have precise wind data for these locations and what we do have is somewhat dated,” said Matt Stelmach, senior electrical project manager. “It’s possible that the addition of new buildings, such as the ACC and the Sherman Center, are acting to channel the wind. What might have been a sustained wind level of 2 mph a few years ago might now be 4 mph.” 

Stelmach said data will be collected through the summer, when wind levels tend to drop off. The additional data will be used to produce more accurate models of sustained wind levels. By that time, workers will have put an outer shell on the Sherman Center, which should give Stelmach and Lucas an accurate model of how the new building might affect wind speeds across campus.