A Mighty Wind

Pardon the title reference to Christopher Guest’s 2003 Mockumentary of the same name. It was just too tempting. Besides, A Mighty Wind is IMHO Guest’s best work (if you don’t count This is Spinal Tap, for which he shared writing credits but didn’t direct).

But I digress.

Here’s my suggestion on how to use this page: watch the video above — before reading any further.

It’s pretty awesome, and it helps to put what follows in perspective.

I’ll wait here. Mmm-mm-mm-m-mm-…

Ah, done? Pretty impressive, eh?

You probably noticed the emphasis on the size of the turbine: “Twice the height and twice the diameter of the largest wind turbine we currently have.”

First time through, I thought “we” meant the United States.

Hardly. “We” refers to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado. NREL is our government’s premiere research center for renewables. Still, it’s proof of how far the field has advanced, that  a 1.5 MW turbine is fairly commonplace.

Take a look at another 1.5 MW Turbine going up:

1.5 MW Wind Turbine

1.5 MW Wind Turbine

Can’t make out the writing on the generator housing?

Check out the picture on the right:

Close up

Close Up

Yep, it was built by students for a class at Mesalands Community College.

Granted Mesalands is a pretty special place. Located in Tucumcari, New Mexico, the school is home to a unique wind power training center.

Still, the point remains: 1.5 MW is something of an industry standard for a lot of wind farms. The Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center has 291 wind turbines of this size spinning away on the plains of Central Texas (and another 130 2.3 MW turbines, as well.)

The Enercon E-126

The largest wind turbine at the moment is, I believe, the German-built Enercon E-126, seen below.

Enercon E-126

Enercon E-126

This behemoth won’t be commercially available until next year, but it’s already generating excitement (if not electricity) in the US, as first reported here. The E-126 has an official capacity of 6 MW, but is expected to have a peak of around 7 MW.

Of course, what’s often left out in discussing capacity is that wind turbines rarely operate at peak capacity. For example, below is a power curve showing how the actual output of a wind turbine depends on the intensity of the wind is (duh).

Vesta 3MW power curve

Vesta 3MW power curve

The turbine reaches half capacity of 1.5 MW at wind speeds of around 8 meters/second (17 mph). It only reaches peak production of 3 MW when the wind is blowing at about 28 mph.

Still, it’s an impressive feat of engineering and represents one of the paths that renewable energy is likely to take in the future.

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