The United States’ latest foray into wind energy is anything but a stealth project. In fact, when one of the three 160-foot-long blades of the turbine of the 3-megawatt (MW) Eco 100 is at high noon, the entire structure of the wind turbine reaches more than 400 feet above the ground—about 100 feet higher than the torch on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor.
With blades that stretch farther than a basketball court and a tower the length of a football field, Eco 100 is the latest —and largest—wind turbine behemoth erected at the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) near Boulder, Colorado. At its base, the 300-foot tower is about 14 feet in diameter. To ensure that the behemoth withstands 90- to 100-mph winds blowing from the mountains to the west, the base of the tower was planted into a foundation that required 70 truckloads of concrete.
A single Eco 100, manufactured by French energy generation leader Alstom, is strong enough to supply power to 2,000 homes and, with expected service life pegged conservatively at 20 years, could easily generate revenue in the tens of millions of dollars.
The turbine ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on April 26. The Eco 100 is being tested at the NWTC—part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewal Energy Laboratory (NREL)—so that it can be certified for use in the United States. A joint team of NREL and Alstom engineers will evaluate Alstom’s unique drive-train configuration technology. The turbine will go through long-term field tests for model validation that could last another several years.
The Alstom Eco 100 turbine employs a novel drive-train design that isolates the gearbox from rotor loads, putting less strain on the gearbox. That is a promising modification because the wind industry worldwide has been addressing the problem of gearbox reliability for several years. NREL heads a consortium of turbine manufacturers, utilities and suppliers, the Gearbox Reliability Collaborative, that examines ways to improve designs and retrofits for gearboxes.“This has the potential to greatly improve gearbox reliability,” Fort Felker, director of the NWTC said. “Through this project with Alstom, we will develop a comprehensive understanding of this innovative drive-train topology.”
This event signifies a crucial step forward in the long-term, collaborative research and development agreement between NREL and Alstom, which launched in May 2010. After completion of initial testing on the Alstom ECO 100 turbine, NREL and Alstom will continue pursuing research and development in advanced technology areas, including controls and offshore wind energy.
With funding of more than $500 million (in 2009) the NWTC is the most extensive wind-turbine testing facility in the nation. NREL's Commercialization & Technology Transfer Office supports world-class R&D staff, who regularly participate in collaborative research with public and private partners. NREL's innovative technologies have been recognized with 45 R&D 100 awards. NREL began operating in 1977 as the Solar Energy Research Institute. It was designated a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in September 1991 and its name changed to NREL. It is managed for DOE by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC
“We are thrilled to have Alstom working closely with NREL as an R&D partner,” Felker said. ”These types of collaborations demonstrate a commitment to crucial technology development and the public-private partnerships that will be necessary to ensure the continued momentum of the wind power industry. NREL is proud to be at the forefront of this important work.”
“This is a very exciting day for all of us at Alstom and we are delighted to share the celebration with our deeply valued partners from NREL,” said Andy Geissbuehler, vice president and general manager of Alstom’s wind business in North America. “Today’s commemoration of our ECO 100 - NREL partnership follows just a few short weeks after Alstom’s first North American wind farms entered commercial operation. With the achievement of these two significant milestones, 2011 already is shaping up to be an exciting year for Alstom in this challenging and important market.”
Indeed, Alstom started commercial operation of the Adams and Danielson wind farms in Meeker County, Minnesota, on March 9 of this year. Each of the two wind farms uses 12 Alstom ECO 86 wind turbines to generate approximately 20 MW of electricity, for a combined total of 24 turbines and 40 MW of capacity.
Alstom also expanded its presence in the North American wind market in May 2010 by announcing the construction of an 115,000-square-foot wind turbine nacelle assembly facility in Amarillo, Texas. Nacelles are the cigar-shaped enclosures attaching the tower to the blades. The plant will open this fall and create and maintain 275 American jobs, NWTC Director Fort Felker said.
Cheryl Kaften is an accomplished communicator who has written for consumer and corporate audiences. She has worked extensively for MasterCard (News - Alert) Worldwide, Philip Morris USA (Altria), and KPMG, and has consulted for Estee Lauder and the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspapers. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Jennifer Russell