Posts Tagged ‘wind turbine’

Word of the Day: Nacelle

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

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.)

Community College Summit

Friday, October 15th, 2010

The White House Summit on Community Collegescollege

Last week, the inaugural Summit on Community Colleges was held at the White House, helping to draw attention to a valuable educational resource. As Dr. Jill Biden noted in the program’s opening remarks, “[Community colleges serve as] an important next step in our [nation’s] efforts to meet the President’s goal of having the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world by the end of this decade.”

Community colleges are an American invention that were first introduced nearly 100 years ago to help broaden educational opportunities. According to the American Association of Community Colleges,
as of the Fall 2007, a total of 7.4 million individuals were enrolled in credit programs at 1,165 community colleges nationwide. Forty percent were attending on a full-time basis; 60 percent attended part-time.

Here’s what President Barack Obama had to say in his remarks at the Summit, “[Community colleges] are places where workers can gain new skills to move up in their careers. These are places where anyone with a desire to learn and to grow can take a chance on a brighter future for themselves and their families – whether that’s a single mom, or a returning solider, or an aspiring entrepreneur.”

We didn’t have to venture further than this week’s ATETV Episode to find a great example of these very circumstances: Laramie County Community College student Stacy Brandt is enrolled in the school’s Wind Energy Technology Program. Stacy was a stay-at-home mom for eight years, but as she told ATETV, she needed to go back to work following her divorce and was looking for a career with a future.

“I don’t fit in the box,’” Stacy explained. “I love the hands-on aspects of working on the wind turbines…and I think if you have a job that is also your interest, even your passion, then it makes it easy to get up in the morning.” Plus, she adds, “My son is now 9. He thinks what his Mom is doing is cool.”

Writing about the White House Summit, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted, “Community colleges have never been more important. They are educating the workforce of the future – the radiologic technicians; the registered nurses; the installation experts on solar and wind power; the IT and cyber-security technicians; the displaced workers in need of retraining and new careers; and scientists and other professionals.”

Check out the ATETV Archives to learn about these and other offerings at community colleges around the country, and hear from other students about their experiences. We think you’ll find that community colleges provide lots of cool options.

ATETV Episode 33: New Industries Mean New Opportunities

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

This week, we look at two up-and-coming industries – Wind Energy Technology and Architectural Technology – and take another look at internships and their key role in workforce development.

In our first segment, we talk with Mark Guilloz, operational manager for two wind power plants in Northeast Colorado operated by enXco Service Corporation, who explains that today’s need for skilled wind technicians is phenomenal. “The [wind power] industry is growing so rapidly that the manpower, the knowledge, the expertise that we’re reaching out for is very difficult to find.”

What does it take to make it in the field of Wind Energy? Well, a sense of adventure and a love of heights doesn’t hurt, according to Mark. “As a [Wind Energy] technician, you’re not just going to be in a controlled environment,” he explains. “In many cases…you’re going to kind of be in a pretzel sort of position, maybe upside down or sideways, and you may be sitting out on the ledge of a turbine…over 200 feet in the air with the wind blowing and maybe a little bit of snow.”

Now that’s a career that’s really soaring!

But, if you like to keep your feet planted on the ground, you might be better suited to the field of Architectural Technology, which, as we learn in Segment 2, is also undergoing rapid growth, the result of a current demand for green buildings.

Christina Sullenberger is enrolled in the Architectural Technologies program at Sinclair Community College. As she tells us, “Everything now is becoming green, so I’m continuing my education and furthering my knowledge and going into a field that’s up-and-coming.” With her newfound knowledge in energy analysis and other skills necessary for today’s emphasis on green buildings, Christina hopes that this experience will be a stepping stone on a path to a four-year college degree and a career as a licensed architect helping to ensure that both new and existing homes become more energy efficient.

Finally, in Segment 3, we learn how community college internships are preparing today’s students for the workforce of tomorrow. “Our primary mission is workforce development,” explains Robert Grove of Wake Technical Community College. “So we work very closely with industry representatives, and advisory committees [to develop curriculum].” But also key are the internships and co-op work experiences that enable Wake Forest students to get OJT – on-the-job training.

“To get out there and to get your hands in and work with people that are actually doing what you’re being trained to do is invaluable,” adds Robert. “You can’t replace that kind of experience. It’s fundamentally key to being successful.”

Q&A with Stanley Kowalski III of FloDesign, Inc.

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

SK_headshotThe FloDesign, Inc. was recently awarded $3 million in grants from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to expand its operations, including the creation of a product development center and the continued operations of its aerodynamic research center. We talked with FloDesign founder Stanley Kowalski III, about the company’s wind turbine technology, clean energy and the types of jobs that this new industry will create.
 
Why do you think the wind turbine industry is a good field for technical students to consider as they’re looking toward their careers?

Right now, wind is the lowest cost renewable resource. There’s nothing more rewarding than going into a job that will have a social impact, a job in which you’re actually going to be “doing good.” And green tech has that right now. If we can wean ourselves away from fossil fuels, we really can save the planet. And all of these things make you feel better and give you more purpose.
 
The FloDesign wind turbines are based on jet engine technology. Can you explain how this is distinct from other wind turbine technology?

Our technology is called a “shrouded turbine” and it’s totally different from [existing wind turbines]. Most wind turbines you see today have three blades and look like a propeller on an airplane. Our turbine, on the other hand, looks just like a jet engine. That’s because our engineers and scientists come from aerospace backgrounds and we’re applying aerospace and propulsion principles to wind power. [Shrouded turbines are built around a fan surrounded by a "shroud." As a result, wind flows through the fan and around the outside of the shroud creating an air mixture at the back of the turbine that pulls air through more quickly.]

But, what’s noticably different about our technology is that these turbines are about half the size of other wind turbines — but produce the same amount of power. And because the rotors are half the size of traditional turbines — and the towers are half as tall — these turbines can be used in a variety of different environments and places where the much larger turbines wouldn’t fit, for example, in cities and at airports.
 
You’ve referred to this as “disruptive technology.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

It refers to using an old idea in a new way. If you look back through time, there has always been a place for disruptive technology. For example, think about ice. There was a time when ice was produced by carving up lakes and transporting ice blocks by horse and buggy. Then refrigeration came along and the whole ice industry changed drastically. A more recent example would be the [photo] film industry. Remember when digital cameras first came to market, how rapidly the film industry declined? These are both examples of disruptive technologies. In the case of FloDesign, we took a mature technology used in propulsion systems, called the mix rejecter, a means of pumping air on the back of a jet engine, and placed it on a new object — the wind turbine. The result was better performance and potentially lower cost
 
FloDesign’s new research and development operation is expected to create 150 new jobs. Can you tell us more about the types of jobs that will be created?

Like the automotive industry, there will be many different facets of the operation that have to come together in order for this project to fully come to fruition. For example, there’s the manufacturing itself — how will we actually build these? Then we will be developing ancillary products like a shipping container. So everything from the design down to the actual installation of the device, will create job opportunities. So, when I talk about design, that will involve scientists and engineers. When we talk about the execution of that design, we will need people with CAD [computer assisted design] skills.

Can you talk more about these skills?

When we talk about CAD, we’re talking about computer-aided tools that can be used either for drafting or for design.

For us, we’re building small prototypes of our actual wind turbine. And we’re using a science known as similitude, which means we can test it in small scale. Imagine if you had to build the whole thing before you could see how it worked — you can’t do that. You have to test on a small scale before you can go to large scale. And that’s what rapid prototyping does — it gives you rapid, quick tests. I can test 37 iterations of my wind turbine, at a cost of maybe $5,000 and know what the performance would be for that first turbine that will cost $2 million [to actually produce.] I think CAD is one of the most powerful tools you can have [as a technician.]

What other advice would you give today’s students?

Well, I would say that internships can be valuable. Our company currently has five or six employees [who started as interns] and it was a great process — the students got a taste of the real world, and we got to know them [and their abilities.] It was sort of a dating period.

I would also say that I think for students who are just graduating and considering their employment options, entry level positions at small companies provide you with the opportunity to be part of something that could be enormous. Of course, I’m biased, but I think that many of today’s opportunities in America really lie in small companies and start-ups.