Harvest the wind

Sept. 29, 2011
Mike Bacidore says industrial plants are finding opportunities to utilize alternative energy.

Three years ago, I predicted more industrial plants would begin harnessing alternative energy supplies and using them to create their own power, and even sending power back to the grid. I wrote about an existing industrial plant that has been harvesting the energy of the wind to generate electricity for almost 10 years now. BP’s Netherlands Refining (Nerefco) was utilizing power from a nine-turbine, 22.5-MW wind farm near Rotterdam, which displaced 20,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The oil refinery not only uses the energy to run its own operations, but also contributes power to the Dutch grid.


Now, as more industrial plants begin adding wind turbines to their electricity supplies, the very idea seems almost worthy of a why-didn’t-we-think-of-this-earlier palm smack to the forehead. Estimated wind energy costs hover around $0.05/kWh, but the real issue is with the energy’s intermittency and the tricky details involved in contributing power back to the grid. Additionally, typical annual maintenance costs run about 5% of the installation cost. That’s significant but can be cut in half with proactive maintenance or reliability practices.

Recently, Wago (www.wago.us) tipped up a 100-ft-tall, 32-ft-diameter windmill using portable hydraulics at its North American headquarters in Germantown, Wisconsin. The ability to raise and lower the unit in around 20 minutes will help to alleviate a considerable amount of those maintenance costs. This particular system, built by Renewegy (www.renewegy.com) in Oskkosh, Wisconsin, includes power supplies, cables, connectors, fuse blocks and a backup capacitor module manufactured by Wago and can generate 20 kW of power, or about 8-10% of the facility’s electricity demand.

The $80,000 price tag was more than halved by various energy incentives, but it’s the VP-20 wind turbine’s hydraulic tip-up capability, along with the internal CANbus communication, which is converted to Ethernet for remote monitoring, that differentiate it.

And now, Lincoln Electric (www.lincolnelectric.com) has erected a 443-ft-tall wind tower at its world headquarters in Euclid, Ohio.

The tower project, which was dedicated in late August, is a global endeavor, with the tower’s can sections coming from Katana Summit (www.katana-summit.com) in Columbus, Nebraska, the glass fiber reinforced polymer blades produced by LM Wind Power (www.lmwindpower.com) in Poland, and the Synderdrive synergetic drive train in the turbine coming from Kenersys (www.kenersys.com) in Germany.

Even more impressive than the 220 tons of steel that comprise the wind tower is the 2.5 MW of electricity it has the capability to generate. It can supply up to 10% of the power needed at the Lincoln Electric campus. The company calls the wind tower a symbol of its commitment to the wind tower fabrication industry.

Neither company has immediate plans to send power back to the grid, but harvest-your-own energy is growing.