Article by Joe Berta, March 2012
In the late eighties, cruising boats were starting to discover the free energy that can be harvested from the wind, especially in the trade-wind regions of paradise known as the Caribbean. I was already messing around with ultralight experimental helicopters, so those whirly blades were very familiar to me and I had some experience carving and laminating blades. The idea came to try my hand at building a wind generator.
My friend Warren Keillor, a mechanical genius and inventor ( http://www.keillorfilm.com/ ) turned me unto a surplus store in Toronto with a huge pile of DC electrical motors that have come out of discarded old reel-to-reel mainframe computers. I don’t remember the exact specs but they were 36 Volt permanent magnet motors. I knew they had lots of power (amperage) because when turning the shaft with my fingers I could feel the electromagnetic resistance. I carved some symmetrical blades until I came up with a fairly efficient three-bladed contraption mounted on the bridgedeck of our trawler on an aluminum pole. It caused enough attention and interest among fellow boaters that I bought 50 of the motors (@ $12.00 a piece) and as we cruised I built all of them into workable units which financed much of our escapades around the Florida keys, including several units I sold in Boot Key Harbor.
By the mid nineties, many of us have figured out that aside from one or two very well designed commercial units, most wind generators on the average near-shore cursing boat worked only marginally well to make it worth while. For the hundreds of boats that were anchored in Boot Key Harbor, the best time for a wind generator to work was when a cold front blew through, and then they became too noise and dangerous! Many of us, especially on power boats threw them away and opted for solar panels or for the burning of fossil fuels.
I remember my experiences with wind power as I see and read about today’s new wind-farm developments. Among the cons I hear a lot of bellyaching about noise, so I have been curious. I know that our old units were noisy but due to their size and crudely fashioned blades, I find that not surprising. What I have been wondering about is how so much noise would be produced to be of concern in a slow turning, computer designed and continuously computer tuned wing plane on a much larger scale? After all, this is a technology that could free us from many of other, much more undesirable ways of putting juice in our wires.
In the last couple of days I was working on the West Coast of Ontario, that being the shores of Lake Huron. Getting there, I drove through wind farms far inland taking advantage of winds coming off the open waters unimpeded over a relatively flat terrain of the Huron County landscape. And, when I decided to stop at the Pointe-Aux-Roches facility I was in luck; being one of the windiest days of late. I was able to gain access to directly beneath the Vestas V90 1.8 MW generators. Sustained windspeed at the generator’s hub height, according to the engineer with me on site was 22 to 26 knots. It was an awesome sight under the huge, slow turning machines. You could clearly sight the blade tips bending aft while in the upper, more windier reaches of their arc and then straighten out swinging through the lower altitudes. Among three different units I stood directly under, I could detect no blade noise over the sound of the wind itself, from two of the units. One of the units had a little discernable sound coming off of the trailing edge of one of the three blades. The engineer commented about that particular machine to be slated for a checkup, and that most likely there was debris adhered to that one blade.
So, I know from first hand experience that wind, which is free and is non-polluting, can produce power to fuel our needed devices and desired toys. Now, I also know that the big machines are not noisy.
We may still need some fine tuning and further progress in this technology but we have to start somewhere.
I don’t live on land so when I see the concerned landlubber citizens with signs on the front lawn ”wind turbines don’t belong where homes are” I have little experience to comment except perhaps they need to think what their kids will do when the oil and coal that makes electricity now, runs out. When I hear about the owners of huge lakeside palaces overlooking the water and complain about wind farms ruining their view = real estate values, I say “suck it up!”. I also hear some of my boating brethren here on the Great Lakes complaining of off-shore wind farm installations being a navigation hazard, not only for them but for birds as well. Considering the shape our planet is in and all the poisons we expel into the air, I say if we don’t try to do something like wind power (or solar and other alternatives) nor the birds or us will be here much longer to worry about navigation! And, I’ll keep my comments to myself about the boater who has to concern him or her self about navigating around a field of obstacles sticking out of the water……
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