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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Getting in gear
February 25, 2011 - 2:45pm

Call me a gearhead, but I think transmissions are sexy. Always have done, since the first time I tore down an electric dryer. Then a garden tractor. Then one of those old Maytag washing machines that used to last pretty much forever.

So I got real excited when I learned of a new transmission design for wind turbines, created by folks at Munich Technical University. You see, typical wind turbines spin at varying speeds, depending on wind strength. That's hardly surprising, but it creates some inherent inefficiency: the turbines either have to generate direct current (which must then be converted to alternating current with a resulting energy loss), or they generate alternating current at variable Hertz (which must then be converted to DC so it can be re-converted to AC at the appropriate standardized Hertz rate). Every time you convert electricity's form in any way, you lose energy as heat.

So what's neat about the new transmission (described briefly here) is that it allows initial generation of alternating current at a predetermined number of Hertz, regardless of wind speed. That, by itself, can increase net power output by about 5%. Maybe only a gearhead would care. Or a wind power advocate. (Or both.)


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