ILCC: The ‘art of wind’

German company harnesses Iowa wind power

-File photo This new wind turbine was installed in September 2016 on the Iowa Lakes Community College farm, west of Emmetsburg. The turbine is designed to provide all of the farm’s electrical needs with excess going to the grid.

EMMETSBURG — The winds are shifting at Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg. But the good news is that they know exactly what to do with that wind.

The project began in the summer of 2015 when German-based windtest-na — a worldwide company specializing in wind turbine certification testing — joined a partnership between itself, ILCC and Florida-based Chava Wind LLC, to deploy and test Chava’s vertical axis wind turbine.

The prototype was erected at ILCC’s college farm west of Emmetsburg in fall 2016.

Standing approximately 100 feet tall, it is one of only two existing Chava VAWTs in the U.S. The other is located in Miami, Florida.

ILCC’s turbine is currently in the testing stage to gain the highly-respected international electric code (IEC) 61400-22 certification.

-Photo by Karen Schwaller Hagen Ruff, left, founder and chief executive officer of Chava Wind LLC, and Dan Lutat, director of sustainable energy resources and technology at ILCC in Emmetsburg, work directly with research and development efforts on the Chava vertical-axis wind turbine, located at the ILCC college farm west of Emmetsburg. Ruff and his crew designed this prototype turbine, which enables wind energy technology to come to areas where space is an issue, like in the densely-populated areas of Japan.

When certification has been completed, it will harness “small wind” — wind that is lower in the atmosphere, providing another available and overlooked source for the generation of wind energy at the point of use.

The college purchased and installed a tower, foundation and completed electrical work with the help of $20,000 in grant money from the Iowa Energy Center, while Chava Wind donated the turbine and related accessories, worth more than $111,000. Windtest-na will partner by providing certified testing services on the turbine, as required for IEC certification.

According to a statement from ILCC, windtest-na has nearly 20 years of renewable wind energy experience, having participated in several large projects in the U.S., Europe, India, China and other countries.

The company provides testing and technical consulting, including measurements in power performance, mechanical load, sound emission, acoustic vibration, grid integration and performance assessment.

ILCC currently offers a wind energy program and is one of only seven colleges receiving the American Wind Energy Association Seal of Approval.

Windtest-na established its American headquarters in 2014 at the Sustainable Energy Resources and Technologies Center at the Estherville campus of ILCC.

“This Chava turbine has allowed students in our wind energy and turbine technology program to have a chance to learn about, and assist with, the launch of this new type of turbine,” said Valerie Newhouse, ILCC president.

Hagen Ruff, of Stuttgart, Germany, founder and chief executive officer of Chava Wind, has been at the helm of this project and said the prototype turbines are being developed for use in areas where space is an issue. Because they have a vertical axis, the turbines can take wind from any direction without having to constantly turn into changing wind directions, which is the process for classic horizontal axis propellers.

He added said they have a smaller footprint, are typically quieter in high winds and are less prone to bird kill episodes.

Ruff said the “neighbor-friendly” features will be important in countries like Japan, where many densely-populated areas exist and space is an issue. He said the Caribbean islands have good trade winds and high power costs, unreliable power grids and widespread use of “polluting” diesel generators, giving these turbines a suitable market area.

“(In places like that), big wind (large, horizontal-axis utility turbines) is not an option because they don’t have the grid capacity to accommodate big wind’s high-power output,” Ruff said, “so it’s got to be small, distributed wind. In those resort areas, it has to be something that is nice-looking and a feature of the landscape that people get excited about.

“I think we have exactly the right product for those markets, and there are markets all over the world for something like this.”

Small wind

Dan Lutat, director of sustainable energy resources and technology at ILCC, said small wind makes sense even for small towns in Iowa because it offers remote flexibility and helps small municipalities deal with infrastructure and environmental challenges.

“For smaller communities,” Lutat said, “a few of these machines platooned could enable off-grid sustainability and allow them to be an alternative generation site when they are not using all of the electricity they produce.

“It gives them an affordable solution that doesn’t have a big footprint and doesn’t come with all the utility scale turbine issues that some people don’t prefer.”

Lutat said a large gap exists between utility-scale wind generation — the turbines commonly seen in the Midwest– and energy produced by much smaller turbines such as these.

“In that market is all that space where flexible energy solutions can reliably provide energy,” he said. “That can enable utility-scale power producers to do what they are ideally suited for–providing lots of energy to load centers that need it.

“In areas like this where it makes sense to have distributed wind energy, even in combination with solar and some storage options, it gives you flexibility to do things that those utility scale turbines don’t allow you to do.”

Lutat said it would be hard to find something more efficient than the large, horizontal-axis utility-scale turbines right now, but they are primarily for utility generation.

“When you’re talking about needing thousands of horsepower in the gearbox to overcome the loads on the generator, you have to have a rotor that’s that big,” he said. “It requires lots of height and space, so you can’t put them too close together or too close to where people reside.

“People are interested in this (smaller and more attractive) kind of turbine, and with that interest comes the flexibility of more diverse energy solutions.”

After researching the market, Ruff said there were no IEC-certified VAWTs that could produce up to 25 kilowatts of power, so he and his company started to work on it.

Tests will be done in the next year to find out exactly what the sustained wind speed is in that location. Current average annual wind speeds range from 7.5 to 8.3 meters per second.

The art of windpower

“We worked to make small wind turbines ‘sexy’ because people don’t seem to like looking at the classical propellers you see all around,” said Ruff. “We wanted to make something that people found aesthetically pleasing, and we want to call it ‘the art of wind power’ because the design of the turbines sets an innovative statement by itself.”

He added said the smaller, vertical-axis turbines don’t have as much blade shading — shadows on the ground– as do horizontal axis turbines, which makes them more feasible in populated areas.

Lutat said parts for this turbine are those that can be obtained from common places like implement dealers and hardware stores. Also, the turbine features hydraulic cylinders that raise and lower it, eliminating the need for workers to climb to the top of the turbine to work on it, giving it a greater industry safety standard.

Originally, the Chava 25-kilowatt turbine featured two curved blades, but the design ran into trouble with harmonic vibrations. Lutat said in order to keep the footprint small, Chava went to a three-blade design to reduce vibration issues and still have a turbine that can be placed almost anywhere.

Consumers for these kinds of turbines could be almost anyone, Ruff said, including small businesses, big-box stores, farms, individuals, communities and schools.

Lutat said this kind of turbine is important, offering another option for sustainable energy. He said it’s survivable and offers technology that preserves hydrocarbon fuels that are still needed in a diverse power delivery system.

He said bridge technologies –wind energy in particular– bring energy production farther into the future by offering clean options that lead to the next best idea in energy production.

Although the name of the turbine has not yet been determined, Ruff said he is considering calling it Wind Leaf since the curvature of the blades resemble leaves. He said it also resembles a double-sided peace sign.

The word Chava has two meanings, Ruff said, adding that there is a Native American meaning of earth, and in Hebrew for life.

“So we thought that sustained life on earth is very telling,” Ruff said. “We are researching those technologies that can enable us to convert energy from ambient sources (and wind is one of them) in a sustainable way.

“So basically, it sustains life on earth — hence, the name ‘Chava.'”

Looking ahead

For the next six to nine months, windtest-na will be working on the operational testing of the turbine — monitoring wind speeds and turbine function, sending that data to a third-party certifier — TUV Rheinland.

The turbine will provide power to the college farm and lab when completed and certified.

“In the long run as educators, we don’t carry anyone’s baggage,” Lutat said, “It’s part learning tool and part industry promotion tool.

“The biggest thing is that it gives us the ability to sustain this college farm in a more responsible way — and I think that’s what our taxpayers want, because this is going to give us a return on the investment.”

ILCC’s wind technology program has roughly 50 students enrolled, and Lutat said that area is at the top of the “hot jobs” list.

He said the future calls for triple-digit demand for wind energy technicians for at least the next 10 years.

He said wind energy jobs just passed the 100,000 mark in the U.S., which he said is more than coal, nuclear, natural gas or hydro-electric.

“The wind energy field will continue to grow,” he said. “By 2030, projections put wind energy jobs at 380,000, and that’s from a utility-scale perspective.

“As products allow more diverse wind energy production capacity, those numbers will only grow.”

This project, he said, will be a tremendous teaching tool for students as they move into the future, with on-site visits, work force development and educational opportunities galore.

“This brings another card to the table,” Lutat said. “We can be a good steward of the taxpayer’s dollar and good stewards of the environment and provide opportunity. Eventually, this will become a good teaching and learning tool for the state of Iowa, improving our leadership and our reach.”