WINDPOWER, the Western Hemisphere’s largest wind and renewable energy conference, kicked off in Chicago (May 7 -9) with American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) leadership including Steve Lockard, AWEA’s newly elected Board Chair and President and CEO of TPI Composites, providing their vision and direction for American wind power to the more than 7,500 attendees. The future is looking bright.
Being one of the 7,500 in attendance and a Chicagoan, my first stop was to visit Chicago based engineering firm, Sargent and Lundy. Sargent and Lundy set up shop in Chicago 125 years ago. Now the company has offices all over the United States and have joint ventures with Canada, India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. I wanted to hear about the current wind project here in Illinois, HIllTopper Wind Farm. The project is situated in Logan County Illinois. It will be built in two phases, eventually providing 250MW of clean energy.
For Sargent and Lundy this is not the first foray into wind energy. Since the early 2000’s Sargent and Lundy has provided a wide range of services to the wind power industry including full plant design, site screening, project feasibility, wind resource assessments, independent engineering, interconnection planning, conceptual engineering operations and maintenance support.
The company probably will not be designing wind farms for urban Chicago. Wind turbines are big and though a turbine doesn’t require a huge amount of space, the Logan County site is about 5 acres by 10 acres, the current turbines most often in use for industrial scale wind have blades somewhere between 80 to 100 feet in length. Blade assemblies weigh more than 36 tons. There are smaller systems and the research and development into even smaller systems that may prove appropriate for urban spaces continues. In the meantime take a look at this. If you look very carefully at this scale model you will see a tiny workman at the arrow.
Germany is in the lead for wind production so a trip to visit the “German” booths and grab a pretzel and beer was on the schedule. Wind energy in Germany is rapidly growing. The installed capacity was 55.6 gigawatt (GW) at the end of 2017, with 5.2 GW from offshore installations. Katia, the rep I spoke with told me that Germany has to sell wind energy to other countries because battery storage technology isn’t sufficient to date for utility scale projects. There are storage solutions for small installations. According to AWEA in the U.S., numerous peer-reviewed studies have concluded that wind energy can provide 20% or more of our electricity without any need for energy storage. (https://bit.ly/2G00JdD). So for some inquisitive person out there maybe this is the next patent to change energy for the good. Wind mills may be old technology but it is getting more sophisticated everyday.
Speaking of possible inventions in the wind turbine space I had a conversation with a gentleman from a company that provides cooling systems for the turbine. 100’s of wind turbines catch fire, mostly from lightning strikes but internal heat from normal operating can also cause fires. Cooling implements are included to mitigate excessive heating. My question was why hasn’t some enterprising company or individual come up with a way to utilize the heat to create more power. The representative couldn’t answer that question but said if he found a way he wouldn’t be working the exhibition but would be sipping a latte on a beach somewhere. I guess he thinks there is money in the idea.
Entire companies have evolved to service wind energy. I don’t normally see wind farms in Chicago. The closest turbine is located on the campus of IIT on 35th street in Bronzeville. So, if you’ve never seen a wind turbine this is a good place to take a peek. When you see the size of this moderately small model you have to wonder how did it get there. Remember units weigh north of 30 tons. I had this question so I visited BNSF, one of the companies that move turbine blades by rail. Blades are then trucked to assembly sites, in some cases by a different company
There is a video on YouTube here.
While strolling the aisles at the McCormick West exhibition floor I spied a drone. Who these days isn’t interested in drones? DBi Services had a nice little drone parked at their booth and a video running of a much bigger model. This company does maintenance. I asked if the feed from the video on the drones was monitored by internet and could be a valuable asset in security. I was thinking as this might be potential security for solar farms. Solar panels are often stolen. Well the answer was no because of all the restrictions. States, cities even townships have different rules and regulations. It is a red tape nightmare.
Currently Dbi uses drones at specific sites to assess maintenance issues for roads but the use is limited. As it was explained to me, a facility within a fenced area could operate a drone that could film within that space and be attached to the security cameras . That unit would photograph intruders but even that is fraught with problems. This left me wondering how all these videographers are taking aerial shots of wedding parties. According to DBi it’s illegal. Next question….How will Amazon deliver packages via drone?
It is clear from the many hours I spent at AWEA that wind energy is on the rise and so are the many supportive industries. This mean jobs in renewable energy. As a member of the community I want to know how well our young people are being prepared?