Monday, December 29, 2014

A Wind Turbine for Christmas!

Here is the new wind turbine students and I helped set up for our Unity College colleagues Brent and Erin. The turbine head used was a new Maine-made Pika, connected as a battery-charging turbine to Brent and Erin's existing off-grid solar electrical system, where it would make up for the relatively poor sunshine Maine gets in the winter.

Maine only gets an average of 2.5 hours direct sunshine a day in winter, which is enough to charge household batteries if you have a lot of panels, but after some point adding panels is less cost-effective than adding a wind turbine because you have to add batteries as well, and batteries are expensive. We get a lot of wind in Maine in the winter. This is a particularly favorable small wind site, at an altitude of around 500 feet above sea level with very little higher ground between it and the coast. It has an average annual wind speed of approximately 4.5 to 5.5 meters per second at 50m AGL, based on our local measurements, more in winter. The couple were looking forward to being able to do their laundry any day of the week.

This was a beta test install for Pika, a new company we have corresponded with and helped out a little since it got going a few years ago, and we're all interested in the results. I'm particularly interested in the reliability. Pika claims up to five years without maintenance, which I think is probably an industry best for small wind turbines if it pans out.

The college donated a used six-inch, forty-meter NRG Systems anemometer tower to Brent and Erin to use as a turbine tower, in return for the right to visit the turbine and use it in training. Brent, Erin and I -- mostly Brent and Erin, with me directing via email and short site visits, during which I often was holding our newborn baby -- worked together to puzzle out how to trim it to a 100-footer, Pika sent a crew to assemble the head to our tower, then together we raised it successfully in one day.

The following day Brent and Erin adjusted the tower, turned the power on and by the end of the day were gratified by a full charge on their batteries.

This project was being planned at the end of the semester, but because of various delays involving the fabrication of the transition section from the NRG tower to Pika's turbine head, the work slopped over into our break, meaning that SEM students were not available to participate in the raising, but they did help with some of the labor of getting the tower out of storage.

This lost opportunity doesn't bother me too much because a) we have visiting rights and b) the tower will have to be lowered for maintenance in the future, and students can obviously help with that. There are a number of local turbines where we get called in to help, and we also have our small training tower on campus, so missing the original installation of this particular turbine was not such a big deal.

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