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Wind Electricity Basics

Wind Electricity Basics

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Published by: sebascian on Sep 30, 2009
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Wind Electricity Basics
Small wind-electric systems can provide electricity on remote,off-grid sites, or right in town connected to the utility grid.Although wind systems require more maintenance and needmore attention than solar-electric or microhydro-electric systems, if youinvest up front in good equipment, design, and installation, wind-electricsystems can make economic and environmental sense. They also bring agreat deal of satisfaction—there´s nothing quite like watching your windgenerator convert a summer breeze or a winter storm into electricalenergy.How It WorksBoiled down to its simplest principles, a wind generator´s rotating bladesconvert the wind´s kinetic energy into rotational momentum in a shaft.The rotating shaft turns an alternator, which makes electricity. Thiselectricity is transmitted through wiring down the tower to its end use.The blades use engineered airfoils, matched to the alternator, that capturethe wind´s energy. Most modern wind generators use three blades, thebest compromise between the highest efficiency possible (one blade) andthe balance that comes with multiple blades. Together, the blades and thehub they are attached to are termed the
rotor 
, which is the
collector 
of thesystem, intercepting winds that pass by. Most turbines on the markettoday are upwind machines—their blades are on the windward side of thetower. A few downwind machines are available, but neither configurationhas a clear performance advantage over the other.In most small-scale designs, the rotor is connected directly to the shaft of a permanent magnet alternator, which creates wild, three-phase AC. Wild,three-phase electricity means that the voltage and frequency varycontinuously with the wind speed. They are not
fixed 
like the 60 Hz, 120VAC electricity coming out of common household outlets. The wild output
 
is rectified to DC to either charge batteries or feed a grid-synchronousinverter. In most designs (up to 15 KW in peak capacity), the rotor isusually connected directly to the alternator, which eliminates theadditional maintenance of gears. In systems 20 KW and larger, as well assome smaller wind systems (like the Endurance, Tulipo, or Aircon), agearbox is used to increase alternator speed from a slower turning rotor.The blades must turn to face the wind, so a yaw bearing isneeded, allowing the wind turbine to track the winds as theyshift direction. The tail directs the rotor into the wind. Somesort of governing system limits the rotor rpm as well asgenerator output to protect the turbine from high winds. Ashutdown mechanism is also useful to stop the machine whennecessary, such as during an extreme storm, when you do notneed the energy, or when you want to service the system.How Wind Turbines are RatedWind turbine rating is a tricky affair. While solar-electric module or microhydro-electric turbine production can be predicted fairly realisticallybased on rated output, this number is very misleading with wind turbines.Why? Because rated output is pegged to a particular wind speed, anddifferent manufacturers use different wind speeds to determine ratedoutput. Also, the power available in the wind varies with the cube of itsspeed, so small increases in wind speed result in large increases in power available to the rotor. A 10 percent increase in wind speed yields a 33percent increase in power available in the wind. Conversely, this meansthat a turbine rated at 1,000 watts at 28 mph might produce only 125 wattsor less at half that wind speed, 14 mph.So what´s a wind turbine buyer to do? Ignore the peak output and thepower curve. Look for the monthly or annual energy numbers for theturbine, estimated for the average wind speed you expect or measure atyour site. These will be given in KWH per month (or year) in the
 
manufacturer´s specifications for each turbine. Energy is what you´reafter, not peak power! If, for example, you are looking for a turbine thatcan produce 300 KWH per month, and you know that you have a 10 mphaverage wind speed at the proposed turbine height, you can shop for aturbine that is predicted to generate that much energy in that averagewind speed.If you can´t get energy production estimates from the manufacturer or aturbine owner, look for a different manufacturer. This is basic informationthat any manufacturer should supply. However, knowing a turbine´s sweptarea may also help you calculate the annual energy output for the windturbine. All other things being equal,
there´s no replacement for displacement.
Hugh Piggott gives a rough formula for calculating outputbased on average wind speed and swept area inhis HP102 article. JimGreen at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) developed a similar formula: annual energy output (AEO) in KWH = 0.01328 x rotor diameter (ft.) squared x average wind speed (mph) cubed.A turbine´s revolutions per minute (rpm) at its rated wind speed can giveyou some idea of the relative aerodynamic sound of the machine, and alsospeaks to longevity. Slower-turning wind turbines tend to bequieter and last longer. High rpm machines wear outcomponents, such as bearings, much faster. In addition, thefaster blades move through the air, the greater the possibilitythat they will waste some of that energy as sound from theblades.How To Choose A Wind TurbineTrying to keep an inexpensive wind generator running can be an uphillbattle that you´ll soon tire of. But expect to pay more for a better machine—it´s a tough job to design and manufacture a long-lasting,small-scale wind generator.

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