Word of the Day: Nacelle

Wind TurbineDo you think you have a good vocabulary? Here’s one for you: What is the definition of “nacelle”? We’ll give you a few clues.

Clue #1: A wind turbine couldn’t function without one. Wind turbines are the towering windmill-style mechanisms that convert the flow of wind into the mechanical motion that is used to produce electricity. Today, wind power accounts for about 50 percent of our country’s renewable energy and, according to the American Wind Energy Association, is one of the fastest growing sources of electricity in the world today. Among the more than 8,000 parts that make up a wind turbine are three major components: the blades, the tower and the nacelle.

Clue #2: They frequently require the services of Wind Techs. Wind Turbine Service Technicians, or “wind techs” are the men and women who provide regular maintenance for wind turbines — especially the nacelles. According to a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics wind techs are capable of diagnosing and fixing any problem that might require a wind turbine to shut down, and they perform much of their daily work in nacelles.

Clue #3: They’re bigger than the proverbial bread box, and sometimes large enough for a helicopter to land upon.

If, by now, you’re thinking that the nacelle is the “brain” of the wind turbine, you’re right. Derived from the French word for “small boat,” the nacelle is the compact space that houses the turbine’s gears, generator and other mechanical components. The nacelle also contains the complex electronic components that enable the turbine to monitor changes in wind speed and direction in order to turn wind into useable energy. (To learn more, check out “How Wind Turbines Work” from the U.S. Department of Energy.)

And, if the nacelle is the brain of the wind turbine, then Wind Techs are the brain surgeons, keeping these complex components functioning smoothly. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wind Turbine Service Technicians actually perform the majority of their daily work inside the nacelles’ compact space at the top of the tower, as they clean and lubricate shafts, bearings, gears and other machinery, and troubleshoot potential generator problems. Wind techs may also work outside on top of the nacelle, hundreds of feet in the air, replacing the instruments that measure wind speed and direction.

Training programs in wind turbine maintenance are offered at community colleges across the country, and generally include course work in basic turbine design, diagnositics, control and monitoring systems, as well as basic turbine repair. Many programs, like the one at Laramie County Community College featured in this week’s Episode, also offer students hands-on training. Check out the Windustry web site for a full list of educational programs.

And, just think, you’re already ahead of the game — you know what a nacelle is. (For extra credit, check out some other wind-energy “vocabulary” words at The Energy Bible.)

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