Improving Wind Power Efficiency

Renewable energy — By on July 22, 2009 at 6:47 am
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Improving Wind Power Efficiency

Improving wind power efficiency is one of the primary hurdles to making wind energy a successful and viable alternative energy source.  This is because wind speeds can vary even more greatly than the strength of ultraviolet light (required for solar power).  We cannot control the wind – darn it anyway – so what can be done if we want to rely more on this ample renewable resource?

Today’s wind farms are often sited on top of ridges where gusts are stronger and more frequently, but the wind turbines also are more visible.  Many people oppose wind farm siting in their hometowns because of the perceived unsightly nature of the turbines.

I have to agree that they are not the most beautiful structures in the world.  Do they mar the landscape?  Yes, perhaps a bit.  But for me, I truly consider the alternatives…. a warming world, the chance of more landscapes globally that are negatively impacted by our reliance on fossil fuels and their resulting greenhouse gas emissions.  Its a balancing process: one concern vs. the other.

What were we talking about again?  Oh yes – improving wind power efficiency!  But first, how does wind power work?  Here’s a quick primer:

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Wind turbines can be made more efficient

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee received a $422,00o grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for R&D focused on wind turbine efficiency.  The first issue the University hopes to address is the problem that wind speeds may slow down during the time of day that electricity is most needed: the evening.  This requires improving the “stability of power” that is generated by varying wind speeds.

The research team is working on developing mechanical changes to gearbox technology for wind turbines.  As discussed in a recent article:

It is interesting to note that European turbine manufacturers build turbines based on a direct-drive to get around the frequent need to replace gearboxes. It is reported that the direct-drive makes for a quieter turbine, since they produce no mechanical or tonal noise. It can also limit output during the night when the wind is up but power demand is low. The generator operates at a varying frequency, directly proportional to the rotor speed. A converter modifies this variable frequency output to a fixed frequency corresponding to the grid frequency.

If you’re not an engineer or scientist (join the club), then just take away this bottom line:  Improving wind power efficiency can be achieved in part by changing the parts that comprise wind turbines.  Seems to me that another step is to work on better battery storage capacity so that excess energy generated during windy periods can be stored for future usage.  Maybe there is a spot for me on that R&D team after all!

What are your thoughts about wind power efficiency – or wind energy in general?

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