New Variable Speed Wind Turbine

The efficiency of wind power generators stands to take a leap forward following the introduction of new variable speed wind turbine technology.

variable speed wind turbine - four turbines

Turbines usually need to be shut down when wind movement is too fast or slow. But a variable speed wind turbine can use winds of almost any speed and are up to 40% more energy efficient.

PHOTO: KENETECH

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As we all seek out clean, renewable forms of energy, a new wind-power development is blowing standard turbines away. U.S. Wind Power, a subsidiary of the Kenetech Corporation out of San Francisco, California, has created a variable-speed wind turbine, making wind power more energy efficient than ever. It's official title: the 33M-VS Utility-Grade Wind Turbine.

Invented in California, the turbine measures 33 meters from blade to blade and blows from 1,800 to 2,200 rpm. Usually, when standard turbines face low winds, they slow down considerably, producing very little energy. But thanks to a new power-electronic converter called the "black box," the 33M generators and rotors can adjust to high and low winds, while the box maintains a constant current of 60 cycles.

The new wind turbines are equipped to utilize wind that blows as slow as 8 mph and as fast as 65 mph. They also provide 4 times the amount of energy of standard turbines — at only 2 1/2 times the cost of traditional turbines. This means that utility plants using 33M can provide enough energy to supply a city the size of San Francisco or Washington, D.C., at only five cents per kilowatt.

The best and worst part of wind energy is its complete reliance on Mother Nature. While wind isn't dependable enough to be counted on as the sole means of energy, wind power does allow utility plants to comply with the emission allowances of the Clean Air Act. Utility plants using 33M turbines reduce the amount of pollutants released to the atmosphere, including sulfur dioxide, a by-product of burning coal that contributes to acid rain and increases global warming.

Currently the new turbines, owned by individual wind-power companies and utility power plants, are being used in the Northeast, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, Canada, Central America, New Zealand, and Europe. With its high efficiency and lower costs, wind energy technology may one day help to eliminate the nation's reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels.