Off the Grid team taking own design to KidWind Challenge Nationals in California next week


Team Off the Grid members (from left) Tucker Grimshaw, Jonathon Leonard, Josh Grimshaw, Jacob Leonard and Thomas Laughridge with their KidWind Challenge wind turbine.

They five students were obviously enthusiastic about sharing information about the small scale wind turbine they’d built, modified, rebuilt, re-modified and continue to tweak as they ready for a trip next week to Anaheim, Calif. where they’ll compete for the second time in the National KidWind Challenge.

Off the Grid, the name of their team, was holding an open house Friday evening at The Learning Barn, the team headquarters off Country Club Road west of Fincastle.

The two high school seniors, two sophomores and freshman talked about the components, the magnets, spring coils, discs, resistors, capacitors, air foils, amps, watts and volts associated with the energy-producing model they’ve spent countless hours on this school year.

As they walked a visitor through the design and components, it was clear they had a unique understanding of electrical generation and its relationship to wind power.

Some of their explanations were simple to understand: The magnets were too strong for the original discs they used on the alternator, so they built thicker discs. The alternator replaces the standard one they had to use last year thanks to rule changes for the KidWind Challenge. The one they designed and built could be a record setter for KidWind.

They learned last year they needed stronger air foils— the propeller-like pieces that turn the alternator — so they cut, carved and sanded out three 2×6 pine boards to create their own. That work alone took a couple of months to be sure all the measurements were within tolerances that would catch the wind the best.

Then there was the “Greek” for some visitors as the students talked about the electrical components and changes they made as they worked through the project to make it more efficient, their extensive research, how they reached conclusions about the best assembly, their references to Hugh Piggott’s book “A Wind Turbine Recipe Book: The Axial Flux Windmill Plans,” and how it played into their design and work.

A wind tunnel, a gift from James Madison University’s wind energy program, provides the airflow they needed to test the air foils and the alternator.

They walk visitors through the setup, answer questions with more detailed explanations and can’t wait to turn on the fans in the wind tunnel.

All that is practice, too. Next week in Anaheim, they’ll go through the paces with judges, have their wind turbine tested for the amps and watts it puts out, have an “instant challenge” they’ll have to deal with and be quizzed.

Each of the four parts of the competition counts toward the final score— 40 percent for the turbine test, 30 percent for the time spent with the judges, 20 percent for the instant challenge and 10 percent for the quiz along with other teams from around the country.

The team members’ interests vary, something that appears to be a benefit.

Lord Botetourt senior Josh Grimshaw has designs on being an engineer, and will enter the Honors College at Virginia Tech this fall.

The other senior, Jonathan Leonard who attends LBHS, will head to Virginia Western Community College where he’ll finish up his associate’s degree in mechatronics.

Both have been in Botetourt’s STEM-H Academy programs and attended the Regional Academy at VWCC. Grimshaw was in the STEM-H academy’s first engineering class four years ago.

Their younger brothers, sophomores Jacob Leonard and Tucker Grimshaw, and James River High School freshman Thomas Laughridge are no less important to the research, design and fabrication. Plus, they’re gaining experience that will help what they hope will be next year’s team.

For Tucker Grimshaw, the KidWind project has peaked his interest in environmental science and green energy, while Laughridge is considering law as a career.

When the team leaves next week for the nationals, it won’t be the first rodeo for Jonathan Leonard, both Grimshaws and Laughridge. They were members of last year’s Off the Grid team that placed sixth at the nationals and won the Judges Award that recognized the students’ hard work, knowledge of subject matter, and commitment to building their turbine.

Plus, the team won the regional in April to qualify for the nationals.

The team also has spent time with JMU’s wind energy program and in January was among the featured speakers at the American Wind Energy Association’s Wind Power in Washington, D.C.

Mark Hanson, a Botetourt neighbor and alternate energy consultant and former professor at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College, has been a technical advisor to the team while The Learning Barn founder and instructor Wendy Grisham has helped guide the administrative side of the team’s work.

“I’ve never met a more dedicated group of students then this KidWind team,” Grisham said, “and I’m certain they will continue to be a source of pride and achievement for our community.”

She noted the after Friday’s open house, the team members worked on their design and presentation the remainder of the weekend to get ready to compete in the national forum next week.

The KidWind Challenge is considered “the ultimate wind energy learning experience for students” where middle and high school students around the country explore wind energy through the hands-on and investigative competition.

Companies, universities and governmental organizations provide the kits, training and staff to make KidWind Challenges happen.

The 2017 national competition is at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Josh Grisham and Jonathan Leonard will graduate from Lord Botetourt Monday evening and leave with the rest of the team on Tuesday, May 23 for California. The competition is Wednesday and Thursday, May 24 and 25.

Seeking GoFundMe contributions

Anyone who would like to contribute to the students’ continued learning efforts by assisting with travel expenses for the KidWind  Challenger National Competition can visit the team’s GoFundMe site at

Travel expenses for the boys are not included in the event invitation. The trip costs each team member about $1000, and GoFundMe contributions to help defray these expenses are welcome.

— Ed McCoy

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