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Small Wind Turbine Technologies

Wind TurbinePeople have been harnessing the energy of the wind for centuries with wind powered grain mills, and well pumps (1854). The first known wind powered machine was an organ, designed by Greek engineer Heron of Alexandria, and dates to the first century AD! The iconic drainage windmills of the Netherlands were used by the Dutch farmers to pump water starting in the 1400s, though they had grain windmills dating back to the 1200s.

Wind energy systems today generally power things indirectly, i.e. they produce electricity with a turbine that can be used to run all sorts of devices rather than driving a shaft to pump water or grind flour from grain. With the right location, a small wind turbine can be a cost effective way to offset your home’s energy consumption and fix your cost of energy in a time of uncertainty.

Small wind energy systems have been increasing in popularity over the past few decades as energy prices have continued to climb and be unstable. BREW’s wind energy systems can be either off-grid or grid-tied and with or without battery backup. Wind energy systems can also be designed to complement solar energy in a hybrid system.

500-900 AD The first windmills were developed in Persia for pumping water and grinding grain.
About 1300 The first horizontal-axis windmills (like a pinwheel) appeared in Western Europe.
1850s Daniel Halladay and John Burnham worked to build and sell theHalladay Windmill, designed for the American West. It had an open tower design and thin wooden blades. They also started the U.S. Wind Engine Company.
Late 1880s Thomas O. Perry conducted over 5,000 wind experiments trying to build a better windmill. He invented the mathematical windmill, which used gears to reduce the rotational speed of the blades. This design had greater lifting power and smoother pumping action, and the windmill could operate in lighter winds. Perry also started the Aermotor Company with LaVerne Noyes.

The development of steel blades made windmills more efficient. Six million windmills sprang up across America as settlers moved west. Homesteaders purchased windmills from catalogs or traveling salesmen or, otherwise, built their own. Mills were used to pump water, shell corn, saw wood, and mill grain.

1888 Charles F. Brush used the first large windmill to generate electricity in Cleveland, Ohio. Windmills that produce electricity started to be called wind turbines. In later years, General Electric acquired Brush’s company, Brush Electric Co.
1893 In Chicago, Illinois, the World’s Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair) highlighted 15 windmill companies that showcased their goods.
Early 1990s Windmills in California pumped saltwater to evaporate ponds. This provided gold miners with salt.
1941 For several months during World War II, the Smith-Putnam wind turbine supplied power to the local community at “Grandpa’s Knob,” a hilltop near Rutland, Vermont. Its blades were 53 meters (175 feet) in diameter.
1943 The Smith-Putnam wind turbine broke down, and the machine was shut down.
1945 The Smith-Putnam machine was restarted, but small cracks in the blade caused one blade to break; the turbine was shut down forever.
1950s Most windmill companies in the United States went out of business.
1973 The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo caused the prices of oil to rise sharply. High oil prices increased interest in other energy sources, such as wind energy.
1974-82 With funding from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) led an effort to increase wind power technology at the Lewis Research Center in Cleveland , Ohio. NASA developed 13 experimental wind turbines with four major designs:

1. the MOD-0A (200 kilowatts)
2. the MOD-1 (2 megawatts, the first turbine in 1979 over 1 megawatt)
3. the MOD-2 (2.5 megawatts)
4. the MOD-5B (3.2 megawatt).
MOD-1 Turbine tested on Howard’s Knob 1978-1983

1978 Congress passed the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978 to encourage the use of renewable energy and cogenerationfacilities (plants that have another purpose besides producing electricity). PURPA requires utility companies to buy extra electricity from renewable and cogeneration facilities that meet certain qualifications, called qualifying facilities (QFs). The amount that a utility pays a QF must be equal to the cost that it would have taken the utility to produce the same amount of electricity, called the avoided cost.
1979 The first wind turbine rated over 1 megawatt (MOD-1),
began operating; MOD-1 had a 2-megawatt capacity rating.

The cost of electricity from wind generation was about 40 cents per kilowatt hour.

1980 The Crude Oil Windfall Profits Tax Act of 1980 further increased tax credits for businesses that used renewable energy. The Federal tax credit for wind energy reached 25%, rewarding those businesses choosing to use renewable energy.
1983 Because of a need for more electricity, California began using a contract system that allowed certain renewable and cogeneration facilities (or in other words, QFs) to lock into rates that would make electricity generated from renewable technologies, like wind farms and geothermal plants, more cost competitive. Prices were based on the costs saved by not building planned coal plants.
1985 Many wind turbines were installed in California in the early 1980s to help meet growing electricity needs and to take advantage of government incentives. By 1985, California wind capacity exceeded 1,000 megawatts, enough power to supply 250,000 homes. These wind turbines were very inefficient.
1987 The MOD-5B was the largest wind turbine operating in the world — with a rotor diameter of nearly 100 meters (330 feet) and a rated power of 3.2 megawatts.
1988 Many of the hastily installed turbines of the early 1980s were removed and later replaced with more reliable models.
1989 Throughout the 1980s, DOE funding for wind power research and development declined, reaching its low point in 1989.
1990 More than 2,200 megawatts of wind energy capacity was installed in California — more than half of the world’ s capacity at the time.
1992 The Energy Policy Act of 1992 called for increased energy efficiency and renewable energy use and authorized a production tax credit of 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour for wind-generated electricity. It also reformed the Public Utility Holding Company Act to help make smaller utility companies more able to compete with larger ones.
1993 U.S. Windpower developed one of the first commercially available variable-speed wind turbines, the 33M-VS. The development was completed over five years, with the final prototype tests completed in 1992. The $20-million project was funded mostly by U.S. Windpower, but also involved Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Pacific Gas & Electric, and Niagara Mohawk Power Company.
1995 In a ruling against the California Public Utility Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) refused to allow utilities to pay qualifying renewable facilities (QFs) rates that were higher than the utilities’ avoided cost, the amount that it would cost the utility to produce the same amount of electricity.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Wind Energy Program lowered technology costs. DOE’s advanced turbine program led to new turbines with energy costs of 5 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity generated.

Mid-1990s Ten-year Standard Offer contracts written during the mid-1980s (at rates of 6 cents per kilowatt hour and higher) began to expire. The new contract rates reflected a much lower avoided cost of about 3 cents per kilowatt hour and created financial hardships for most qualifying renewable and cogeneration facilities (QFs).

Kenetech, the producer of most of the U.S.-made wind generators, faced financial difficulties; it sold off most of its assets and stopped making wind generators.

1999 Wind generated electricity reached the 2,000 megawatt mark.
1999-2000 Installed capacity of wind-powered, electricity-generating equipment exceeded 2,500 megawatts. Contracts for new wind farms continued to be signed.

The cost of electricity from wind generation was from 4 to 6 cents per kilowatt hour.

2003 Installed capacity of wind-powered, electricity-generating equipment was 4,685 megawatts as of January 21.
2004 The cost of electricity from wind generation was 3 to 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour.
2005 The Energy Policy Act of 2005 strengthened incentives for wind and other renewable energy sources.
2006 DOE’s budget for wind subsidies was about $500 million — about 10 times as much as the 1978 level.
2007 Wind power provided 5 percent of the renewable energy used in the United States.

U.S. wind power produced enough electricity, on average, to power the equivalent of over 2.5 million homes.

Installed capacity of wind-powered, electricity-generating equipment was 13,885 megawatts as of September 30 — more than four times the capacity in 2000.


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