UD wind turbine still energetic at one year old
Last June, the University of Delaware commissioned a 256-foot Gamesa wind turbine at its Lewes campus. Since then the university has been doing various studies involving the turbine, including studying the impact of turbines on avian and bat populations.
“They are currently running corrosion studies, which is federally funded through the Department of Energy,” explained Blaise Sheridan, a graduate student with the UD College of Earth, Ocean and Environment. “They’re looking at the corrosivity of the environment versus other places up and down the East Coast, where surveys have already been run.”
Ron Ohrel, director of Marine Public Education at the college of Earth, Ocean and Environment, said that not only is the university benefitting from the research possibilities but outside institutions are, as well.
“We’ve partnered with Delaware State University and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources on some of the bird and bat studies, for example. So it’s not just UD folks. We’re bringing in various partners to look at different elements of turbine research.”
Sheridan said that the university’s turbine is certainly “unique” and not found at many colleges.
“There are some technical colleges that offer training to do maintenance work on turbines,” he said. “University of Maine is planning offshore wind research. They’re planning on installing a 10-kilowatt and eventually a 100-kilowatt [turbine] on a platform floating offshore. But this is 2 megawatts, which is a couple of orders of magnitude larger.”
The turbine already helps UD stand out as a leading institution for alternative energy education and research.
“There’s a large focus on research here in offshore wind within this department,” said Ohrel. “The University of Delaware is looking to distinguish itself as a center for renewable energy in the U.S. and worldwide, as well. To have a wind turbine on campus is quite a feather in their hat. It’s very distinguished compared to other peer institutions. They’ve installed solar panels on campus here [in Newark] on top of the Bob Carpenter Center. It’s pretty substantial.”
Ohrel said the turbine has not only helped in advancing research at the university, but education, as well.
“We are doing the research that we expected to do. We’re giving students a great opportunity to get involved with cutting-edge research.”
Sheridan and graduate student DeAnna Sewell are two of four university-affiliated personnel who are certified to climb to the top of the turbine.
“We had to go through quite an extensive training. Ten hours of OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] general training, and there was national fire protection training. We did two days out in Franklin, Pa., where we did fall-protection safety. So they taught us to use the equipment that we were going to need — how to climb and rescue people in emergency-type situations,” explained Sheridan.
Sheridan said he spent last summer at the Lewes Campus, coordinating research efforts on the wind turbine, and so far has only climbed to the top of the turbine once.
“It’s fantastic! The view’s incredible from the top,” he said. “It’s just the tallest thing around. It’s a very different perspective seeing little boats coming in from Roosevelt Inlet, popping your head out of the hatch looking down at the town of Lewes. It’s pretty surreal.
And the experience is memorable enough that he’s eager to do it again.
“I’d love to get back up the turbine, but it really depends on the research schedule,” he said, “since we try to limit the number of trips for safety and to minimize the turbine downtime. My next trip will likely be sometime this summer, to help install the corrosion samples.”
The turbine has not only helped further research capabilities at the university but the energy it creates is being put to good use.
“It’s been offsetting the entire electrical load for the Lewes Campus over the past year,” said Sheridan, “so it’s got a fairly good return of investments from what I understand, as well. The excess power is actually sold to the City of Lewes. And they’re actually buying it for the same price that they were buying Constellation Energy from the Lewes Board of Public Works. So they’re, in effect, buying clean energy for the same price as they were buying.”
“It’s in our opinion, a win-win,” added Ohrel. “You’re getting cleaner energy, and you’re not seeing any kind of change in the price of that energy.”
Although this is only the first year since the turbine was commissioned, the university has plans to expand research and continue to grow their focus on alternative energies.
“There are no plans to install any additional land-based turbines,” Ohrel noted. “We are in conversations with the U.S. Department of Energy to collaborate on offshore wind research and to facilitate the testing of commercial wind turbines. So, we’re in conversations with the DOE to potentially put turbines offshore for further testing. It would allow us to conduct further research, but this time in an aquatic environment.
“And we’re still in conversations, so it’s very far down the road,” said Ohrel. “We certainly look forward to continuing the research and continuing to educate the next generation of alternative energy professionals.”
“It’s a great platform,” added Sheridan of the turbine. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to have this at a university or even to have it in the state, to be able to submit projects to do real research on a working, utility-scale turbine like this,” said Sheridan.