Two Vermont companies will each share in a federal grant to produce better and less costly smaller wind-turbine energy technology for the global market.
The grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Labs is the result of a national competition for the best small wind-turbine design under 52 feet in diameter.
NREL awarded Northern Power Systems of Barre a $347,911 competitive cost-shared grant to develop a larger rotor design for its flagship NPS 100 turbine system.
Northern Power hopes to reduce the system’s levelized cost of energy production, the value of the unit’s cost of electricity over the lifetime of generating, by 14 percent through expansion of the NPS 100 rotor size from 24 to 32 meters in diameter.
“The grant will help Northern research and design a turbine model that will move us even further down the productivity/cost continuum, so that it will be possible for organizations in lower-wind environments to save money by making their own power,” said Maureen McCracken, Northern Power marketing manager.
Star Wind Turbines of East Dorset will receive $60,100 in shared grant funding to test the company’s five-blade, 10-kilowatt-per-hour wind turbine system design.
The ongoing research will ensure the system can meet the necessary federal performance and safety standards to receive product certification.
Product certification tells buyers of wind turbine technology that the system is high quality and complies with all national regulatory standards, said Michael R. Derby, head of research, development and testing for the Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technology Office in Washington, D.C.
The NREL grant program was created to promote development of smaller wind turbines that are cheaper and easier to operate and maintain, Derby said.
To meet the grant program requirements, he said, wind turbine companies across the country submitted proposals showing their product will offer the best design, the best value and the best performance.
“What we are seeing is a lot of (smaller wind turbine system) designs are older designs. They could benefit from the learning that has gone on with larger systems,” Derby said. “There is knowledge that we have today that we can incorporate into today’s machines and make them more cost-effective.”
Derby said this is Star Wind Turbine’s first entry into the grant program, now in its sixth annual award cycle.
The Department of Energy “has a goal to stimulate the development of wind turbines made and developed in the U.S. so that we as a nation will be a competitive leader in the enormous global alternate energy market and export around the world,” said Star Wind Turbines spokesman Jason Day.
Day said the company will use the grant to perform third-party testing of performance, endurance and safety features as part of the product certification process.
“The importance of the certification is that it provides a basis for public confidence (and) that the published specifications of a turbine are valid. Also of importance is that, in some areas, the certification is required in order to qualify for incentives and subsidies,” he said.
The company’s STAR3610 turbine system, for example, makes peak energy at 15 mph instead of 22 to 26 mph like other turbines. Day said this creates two to three times the energy in low to moderate winds.
“NREL recognized that 98 percent of the world has winds less than 15 mph, not 22 to 26 mph,” he said. “Also of importance to NREL is the need to reduce noise from wind turbines. The STAR3610 turbine design demonstrated ultra-low sound in high winds.”
Another important turbine feature is the hydraulic lifting tower that goes up and down for installation and service, Day said.
He said there is no need to ever climb the tower, so service is convenient. The turbines are not Chinese imports. All of the company’s products are designed and manufactured in East Dorset.
McCracken said NPS wind turbine products were mostly competitive in “niche markets” 10 to 15 years ago, and in areas with high electricity rates, high winds and incentive programs.
“In recent years, we have improved our technology to the point that we can produce more power with lower wind speeds, and do so at a lower turbine cost, so that implementing wind power at farms, businesses, and municipal locations is an economic benefit today, even without incentives and super-high wind speeds,” McCracken said.
Derby said the NREL grant program will enable U.S. wind turbine companies to become even more competitive globally.
“It really has been, in my opinion, one of the most successful programs we’ve run through the wind office,” Derby said.