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US Offering $45M For Huge Wind Energy Test Bed 91

Posted by samzenpus
from the blow-baby-blow dept.
coondoggie writes "On a day when one of the largest wind farm plans bit the dust, the US Department of Energy is offering up a five-year, $45 million grant to design and build a large dynamometer facility for testing 5 to 15 MW rated wind turbines and equipment. The DOE says such a facility is needed as the US has fallen behind other countries in the race to build ever-larger wind turbines for energy production. According to the DOE, the average size of wind turbines installed in the United States in 2007 increased to roughly 1.65 MW. Additionally, turbines already developed range in the 2.5 MW to 3.5 MW capacity sizes; with plans being developed for even greater power ratings. The larger wind turbines have outpaced the availability of US-based testing facilities, the DOE stated."
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US Offering $45M For Huge Wind Energy Test Bed

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  • Go for it. (Score:4, Funny)

    by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @07:22PM (#28629837) Homepage Journal
    Build it, I say. That'll teach those birds to crap on my car!
    • by XPeter (1429763) * on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @07:26PM (#28629877) Homepage

      Build it, I say. That'll teach those birds to crap on my car!

      Your worried about bird crap? Oh man, your going to be in for a big surprise when a turbine hits the bird and it's guts are on your car. That's when the shit really starts to hit the fan.

      • by Starlon (1492461)

        That's when the shit really starts to hit the fan.

        Pun intended? lol

      • It would be worth it for the other times in the future than the dead bird would have pooped my ride.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by j0hnyquest (1571815)
      "For its part, the DOE has ambitious plans saying it expects wind to provide up to 20% of the nation's total electricity needs by 2030." There is no way that will happen. But this will definitely help with getting rid of those pesky birds and bats.
      • I think there is a hidden suggestion that because of fossil-fuel depletion there will be a massive reduction in overall electricity usage by 2030 - so the 20% figure may actually turn out to be accurate.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Well, here in Spain we already produce 20% of our electricity needs with wind, and it wasn't very hard or ultra-expensive:

        https://demanda.ree.es/demanda.html

    • Typical Government Agency offering $45 million for something that can suck & blow at the same time when they already have it it's called congress!
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Gravatron (716477)
        Solution: Turbines disguised as ceiling fans over the congress chambers, to capture all the hot air.
  • This... (Score:2, Funny)

    by incognito84 (903401)
    This blows!
  • So if I understand this correctly...

    We are looking for an artificial environment to test devices that specifically will be used in the natural unpredictable outdoor environment as their sole purpose?

    Why not put them in a large windy area and map out their performance with actual gusty conditions and directional changes like they will be subject to in practice.

    You'd get better data by skipping the artificial step.

    If you really need the extremes to be on demand for destruction testing then put a big fan in fr

    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @07:55PM (#28630191)

      Why do we need a giant test facility to create what's out there already and is the final place these things will be operating in anyway?

      a) To catch obvious design flaws early,
      b) To test the device over the entire range of possible operation,
      c) To provide a benchmark that remains static from one test to the next,
      d) To control all external variables so as to create a consistent frame of reference,
      e) To save a few bucks because it's really f----ing expensive to test every design as a full-scale prototype. ... Or to pull a page from our own industry, what's wrong with the following statement: "It compiles, ship it!"

      • And (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @08:39PM (#28630641)

        So a gigantic blade doesn't go flying in to someone's house.

        When you are talking machines as big and as heavy as this, you want to test outside conditions in a safe environment to make sure it won't fail. You do not want to discover later that oh, maybe it WASN'T as strong as we thought.

        Same reason why the bend wings on an airplane. No, they will never face stresses that high in the real world. However, we don't want to just fly it around and say "ok, that's probably good" only to find out later that no, it really isn't. You test an outside case, and you do it somewhere that nobody gets hurt.

        • by Spectre (1685)

          So a gigantic blade doesn't go flying in to someone's house.

          When you are talking machines as big and as heavy as this, you want to test outside conditions in a safe environment[...]

          You test an outside case, and you do it somewhere that nobody gets hurt.

          This is why I'd recommend the western half of Kansas and Nebraska for this ... average wind speeds are 6.5m/s or higher across the entire region, and random bits of shrapnel have next to no chance of hitting a person or a structure. There are plenty of pla

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Having just visited a wind farm today, I can tell you that the gearboxes are what fail most often. The wind facility I visited had 44 older wind turbines (starting from 1998) and those gearboxes cost around $150,000 to $200,000 plus a significant amount for the cranes and man hours ($1000/day for the large crane required + $10,000 setup and $10,000 tear down, and they can only operate in low wind conditions). Those gearboxes, however, are supposed to last, IIRC, 10 to 15 years, but typically last less than

      • Save the money for nuclear plants. http://mises.org/story/3536 [mises.org]
    • by Romancer (19668)

      Two small issues as well:

      The creation date for this bid is after the posting date:
      http://www.grants.gov/search/search.do?mode=VIEW&oppId=48091 [grants.gov]

      And really... In a bid description we need to say this?
      "It is envisioned that the facility will include sufficient office space for permanent staff and visiting users as well as conference rooms, lunch room, restrooms, computer stations, etc."

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by frosty_tsm (933163)
      You raise good points that I won't argue with, so I'll raise my own.

      Most wind farms are in the middle of nowhere (for example, the one an hour outside the LA area on the I-10). Building a test location here requires a) the R&D staff relocate or b) the R&D staff drive potentially hours to work and then back. Neither of those is attractive to potential hires. If you were generous and decided to include their commute as paid time out of their 8 hour day, this could result in 4 or 6 hour work days
      • by socsoc (1116769)

        Banning isn't really the middle of nowhere. Try leaving Bakersfield towards I-15 and then south on CA-247. Then you'll see windfarms in the middle of nowhere.

        Commuting out of the LA basin is ridiculous too, they could live in the Palm Springs area.

        A real world environment for testing isn't good anyways, maybe revision 72A had better results because of the weather.

        They need a controlled environment for design evaluations in a testing facility and then they can take it out to your proclaimed middle-of-

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by markk (35828)

      How much do you think it will cost to fully instrument an experimental Turbine in the field, then tear it down and build a different one? Now, how much for the equipment to stress the turbine at various loads, to manufacture wind speed conditions that mimic many different places around the country, and different loadings, look at various types of network interconnects... We might as well build a testbed location to do this. It might cost 40 or 50 million even eh?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Romancer (19668)

        So your comparison is between a test bed that uses:

        "equipment to stress the turbine at various loads, to manufacture wind speed conditions that mimic many different places around the country, and different loadings, look at various types of network interconnects... "

        And

        "fully instrument an experimental Turbine in the field"

        What exactly would be the difference in creating a test structure that could mount the turbine, and an in place dyno, other than the fact that one has all the instrumentation built into i

        • by tibman (623933) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @01:00AM (#28632499) Homepage

          it WILL be tested in real life.. AFTER it's been tested in a smaller controlled environment. Half-assing stuff is building expensive systems and full-scale deploying them as a test phase. Guess what, if they work but have some problems.. that company won't be addressing those problems because they aren't worth the redeployment costs.

          Also, a real-life environment won't go through the full range of capable scenarios during the limited test phase. You need to try out all kinds of odd-ball stuff that happens in real-life but just not very often (ie: hurricane).

          Being able to install a prototype drive-train and go through the motions of testing without lengthy installation/setup times is important!

        • by ppanon (16583)
          Maye the high wind peaks in a region only happen for two weeks out of the year. Do you really want your testing staff to sit on their thumbs for 50 weeks and then test 30 model variations in two weeks? That's pricey too.
    • by willy_me (212994) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @08:01PM (#28630273)

      Why do we need a giant test facility to create what's out there already and is the final place these things will be operating in anyway?

      A static environment is required to observe the effects of different designs. Tests in a real environment are also important - but they do not negate the need for a static test environment.

    • where did it say that testing meant controlled conditions? wouldn't it have made more sense for them to have done precisely what you are suggesting?

    • by tuxgeek (872962)
      I'm with you on this one
      We already have some areas that do very well generating wind power
      One that comes to mind is in southern California and the valley is wall to wall wind turbines.
      Why not experiment there? Nobody will mind
    • by apez1267 (1311469)
      mars , were else are we suposed to get the electricity to make water when ww3 ( the war for gas ) ends and the last surviving humans leave earth now that it's a nuclear wast land
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday July 09, 2009 @07:00AM (#28634347) Journal

      There's a great video of a wind turbine exploding which you can probably find if you look. Once it went past a certain speed, the tensile strength of one of the blades was exceeded and it split. The turbine then became unbalanced and quickly pulled itself apart.

      This turbine, if I remember correctly, had been in use for two year when it happened. It only broke because the winds were much higher than average for the area. If you're testing in a wind tunnel, you can keep turning up the wind speed until the turbine explodes and get an accurate measure of how much energy it produces at each wind speed and how much it can take so, when you deploy it, you can shut it down when the wind speed approaches the maximum. If you test it in the real world and 'skip the artificial step', you may need to wait several years to get wind speeds that high.

      From your post, it seems like you've never designed anything for real-world deployment. You always want to control the test conditions so you can see exactly which variable is causing failures in your prototype.

    • by CompMD (522020)

      I did a LOT of work in wind energy while I was more an aerospace R&D guy.

      1) Tell an aerospace engineer not to test something, and he will try not to bludgeon you with a cluebat. As an engineer, you are negligent if you do not consider every possible situation the turbine could experience. A wind turbine's natural environment can be reproduced in laboratory conditions for scale models. This reduces testing time and thus cost. It also allows for testing in conditions that the turbine will not experien

  • Why? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dripdry (1062282) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @07:32PM (#28629933) Journal

    IANAE (Engineer, yes) however I seem to recall the energy generation from wind turbines being a fairly simple function of the size. Although I understand there is an acreage issue is it truly necessary to develop bigger and bigger turbines? Can someone explain this? Is it simply that we should optimize the land useage?

    Also, bring on the inevitable "ditch wind, go nuclear" stuff. I can has mod points now?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)
      Maybe they want to test wind turbines to destruction, or model their behaviour in different weather conditions. For example: how does ice deposition on turbine blades affect efficiency? Do this introduce any dangerous operational modes?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        Maybe they want to test wind turbines to destruction, or model their behaviour in different weather conditions. For example: how does ice deposition on turbine blades affect efficiency? Do this introduce any dangerous operational modes?

        A test chamber big enough to do all that sounds like the type of thing the military would be interested in. Why not build it at one of the Army Proving Grounds? The road/rail infrastructure already exists for handling extremely oversized loads and they operate wind tunnels.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MichaelSmith (789609)
          Maybe. Years ago when I worked on the FA18 there was a team working on crack growth analysis on (I think) the Mirage or the F111. They had stripped an airframe down in a test chamber in the US, cooled it down until the metal became brittle, then stressed it with hydraulic rams until cracks started to grow out of control. The resulting model was used to predict catastrophic failure in operational aircraft.

          I can imagine similar things being done on turbines, for similar reasons.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by XPeter (1429763) *

      Also, bring on the inevitable "ditch wind, go nuclear" stuff. I can has mod points now?

      IANAA (Adult, yes) Nuclear is much more efficient when compared to wind farms, but nuclear energy hasn't been developed enough for it to be used as a main energy source. There are many advances and safety precautions to be made before nuclear goes to the big leagues. Intermittently though. we need to drastically cut our addiction to oil and go after power like wind and solar.

      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

        by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @07:52PM (#28630147) Homepage Journal

        IANAA (Adult, yes) Nuclear is much more efficient when compared to wind farms, but nuclear energy hasn't been developed enough for it to be used as a main energy source.

        Someone should tell that to the French. Nuclear reactors provide more than 75% of France's power requirements. [world-nuclear.org].

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by maxume (22995)

          If you look closely, you will see that they also provide the U.S. more electrical generation than France has.

          • by Al Dimond (792444)

            What are you trying to say, that because France is smaller than the US that it's somehow easier for them to implement nukes? Sure, it takes fewer plants to power the country, but France, being smaller, has fewer resources, space, and less money. It might take longer to bring the US up to France's level of nuclear use, but there's no inherent reason it couldn't be done just because the US is large. Unless that would overwhelm the global uranium supply.

            • by dbIII (701233)
              There is the relative shortage of high quality Uranium which would kick in if you built a huge number of the things, but the real problem is the lack of R&D which is what you need before you design the things in the first place. The French put in a lot of work before building what is in effect a long series of gradually improving prototypes and a few promising technologies that turned out to be dead ends (eg. fast breeders) or solvable but too difficult to do so not justifyable on economic grounds (rep
            • by maxume (22995)

              I'm trying to say that there is enough nuclear generation in the U.S. to judge it on it's own merits, there isn't any reason to compare the U.S. to France. Throw in the huge coal reserves in the U.S. and relative lack of coal in France and the comparison just keeps breaking down.

        • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by samkass (174571) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @08:14PM (#28630409) Homepage Journal

          And Brazil gets only 3% from nuclear, has only slightly less power requirements than France, and yet is largely independent of foreign oil, while France is not.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by T Murphy (1054674)
            Brazil has sugarcane to produce ethanol where it cannot make enough oil. France is small, has little (no?) oil to produce for itself and no economical source for ethanol. The only way this has to do with nuclear is France's lack of plentiful domestic fossil fuel makes nuclear more attractive. While nuclear is generally more expensive (less attractive) than fossil fuel power, oil isn't a direct part of the equation. We (US) would probably have more nuclear plants if it weren't for the plentiful coal- I don't
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by sorak (246725)

          IANAA (Adult, yes) Nuclear is much more efficient when compared to wind farms, but nuclear energy hasn't been developed enough for it to be used as a main energy source.

          Someone should tell that to the French. Nuclear reactors provide more than 75% of France's power requirements. [world-nuclear.org].

          Ah ha! So you admit it is less than 100%, then!

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Bigger turbines produce more power. No, not just like that. The sweep area of the blade is related to the amount of power. Since area=pi*r^2, then power=pi*r^2 (or at least the power from the wind available, when comparing a big turbine to a small one). You can get more power from one big turbine, than from three or four small ones, and also you only have one turbine to maintain, not three or four.

    • by MrKaos (858439)

      Also, bring on the inevitable "ditch wind, go nuclear" stuff. I can has mod points now?

      Well, it's been proven in test after test that Nuclear powered windmills will generate more spin and hot air than wind powered Nuclear plants.

    • All this talk about solar and wind eneergy being "free" and building these giant wind farms and turbines has had me wondering about something that I never see addressed. Has anyone considered the meteorological effects of removing all that energy from the atmosphere? I mean wind and solar energy serve a FUNCTION, they move our weather systems around, melt our snow, power our rivers, etc. You start taking a significant chunk of that energy out of the atmosphere, couldn't you end up with climate changes that

      • by Dripdry (1062282)

        It depends what fraction of the "total wind energy" we use. On the other hand, it sure would be sad/funny for us to finally get these things going and have to shut them down due drastic local weather changes.

        There might be an upshot to that, too. What if we find an easy way to alter weather to suit local needs better? Sure it's a shock to the ecosystem, but perhaps it could help things by concentrating rainfall in areas where we need it.

        I imagine the energy used is a small fraction but I'm no meteorologist.

    • Energy is extracted from the area that the blades cover. Twice as long blades means four times the area (pi * r ^ 2), which in turn means four times the energy. Of course, it's much more complicated than that, you can't just make double the blade length for twice the cost (must be stronger, etc.) but still.

      Here's some info:

      http://www.windpower.org/en/tour/wtrb/size.htm [windpower.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I used to work for an aircraft engine company (Pratt & Whitney). They had lots of test cells for engine testing & research. This was a big heavy block of reinforced concrete with lots of instruments attached, and you bolt the engine to it.

    I really doubt a wind turbine generates more power. I'm sure you could build one on the edge of a cliff so you don't need to worry about the wind turbine blades hitting something.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I suspect the power output is only a part of it. More important (as pointed out above);

      - at what wind speed does it break down?
      - if you run it at X high speed for Y hours, and small cracks form, how many more hours can you run it before it breaks? This is important e.g. if there's been a storm - how quickly do you need to send out a maintenance crew, or switch off the turbines?
      - how is it affected by ice? how is it affected by flying plastic bags, or birds?
      - if you want to compare 25 different designs for e

  • You know... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Those 687 wind turbines in Pickens' garage are laying there doing nothing...

  • such a facility is needed as the US has fallen behind other countries in the race to build ever-larger wind turbines for energy production.

    Wouldn't it be cheaper in these days of cutting back to piggyback off of their research instead. NIH is the biggest waster of money ever. Study success everywhere you find it.

  • Wait for it...

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      <voice="over the top dramatic necromancer">Don't go in there, I had Taco BELL for lunch!</voice> -Dr. Orpheus
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday July 08, 2009 @09:06PM (#28630887) Homepage

    It's so government.

    I once worked in an R&D facility for heavy hydraulic equipment. They had about fifty test cells of different sizes, the largest of which was used for hydraulic transmissions for medium-sized locomotives. Those test setups used a big motor and a water-cooled brake; the hot water went through a cooling tower, and then to sprinklers in what appeared to be a decorative lake out front but was really a heat sink. That gear was in the 5MW range, somewhat smaller than what's being described here, but not a lot smaller.

    That setup was where it belonged, near the engineers who designed the things and the machinists who built the prototypes. When the big test cell was put in, it took a few months to build. Not five years.

  • Most of the posters seem to be under the false impression that this will be some huge wind tunnel facility. One of the difficult problems in designing a wind turbine is that the shaft turns very slowly, but electrical generators operate much more efficiently at higher shaft velocities. With the sort of dynamometer they are talking about, you use a very large motor to spin the generator (and possibly the attached drivetrain) and measure how its efficiency throughout its speed range.

  • why do we need these testing facilities? the answer... turbines on mars , were else are we suposed to get the electricity to make water when ww3 ( the war for gas ) ends and the last surviving humans leave earth now that it's a nuclear wast land and go to live on terraformed mars
  • I presently work in the Detroit area on software to control ~100kW motor/generators for cars. I'd like to move up to the megawatt range, where do I go? BTW IPM motors are the way to go IMO.
  • Seriously, I don't think adequate test facilities are the constraint in wind turbine size. Have you seen one of these larger turbines being built? The limiting factor is not the DOE, it's the DOT. There is simply no way to get something that big to the construction site. There aren't roads, or trucks large enough to handle anything bigger. Once it's there, you have to find a crane big enough to lift it.
    • by T Murphy (1054674)
      A large jet might be able to take over where trucks and roads fail. Expensive, but it might be the only way. You still need trucks to get it to and from the airports, but you gain a lot of flexibility on what routes are available. I know there are helicopters that can lift a tank, so it may be possible to airlift the blades short distances. I don't know how big the blades get on 5,10MW units but picturing three 747s in place of turbine blades, I don't know anything short of a ship that could handle cargo to
    • by T Murphy (1054674)
      Easy, just take a helicopter and switch out the rotors with the turbine blades.
  • How about this Honeywell Windgate [mapawatt.com] "personal" turbine, under 6 feet across and under 100 pounds, generating power at as little as 2MPH (about 6W), up over 45MPH (over 2.4KW). It's $4500 at Ace Hardware, but the IRS will refund 30% of its price under the Obama Stimulus programme, $1350 for a net $3150 price (and your state might rebate another 20-50%+). In NYC (average wind speed 12.2MPH at LGA [noaa.gov] producing about 200W), $3150 takes about 7.5 years to break even. Which is about how long all these consumer-grade e

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