The answer is blowing in the wind

| November 17, 2010
By FIONA DE VILLIERS

Anyone who thinks Grahamstown is a sleepy backwater had better think again.

It’s a town buzzing with ideas, generated in part by Rhodes University and schools – both independent and public. If they get their way, forward thinkers at these institutions will make wind turbines the way of the future – slashing electricity bills in half and rendering the historic city a frontrunner in terms of environmentally friendly practices.

One of the first schools to erect a wind turbine

One of these ‘forward thinkers’ is Simon Harvey, a Grade 11 pupil at St Andrew’s College for Boys. He’s always been interested in wind turbine technology; and a recent visit to Eveready-Kestrel’s factory in Port Elizabeth gave him a light bulb moment: “I thought having a wind turbine on campus would be a wonderful way for our school to demonstrate our commitment to going green,” he says.

He enlisted the support of family and the Eveready-Kestrel corporation in Port Elizabeth, and badgered Keith van Winkel, Director of the Arthur Cotton Design and Technology Centre at St Andrew’s, to submit his proposal to the school Building and Grounds committee. His persistence paid off.

Principles of design come into play

It’s refreshing when a young person gets passionate about issues like sustainable energy use. What’s even more rewarding, says Van Winkel, is that Harvey’s project underscored the benefits of design as a teaching and learning discipline. “Simon had to be persistent; and to follow his idea from conception to fruition using meticulous
research. These are exactly the type of principles that underscore everything we teach in the Centre.”

Indeed, there isn’t much that Harvey can’t tell you about wind turbines – from axial flux technology to aerofoil blade and pitch control systems. He also had to configure which size turbine would work the best on campus – research that involved the consideration of diameter, output, generator type, overspeed protection, tower top mass, rated wind speed and cut-in wind speed. Also important was knowledge of the seasonal winds in the Grahamstown area, and where exactly on campus a wind turbine
could be utilised most effectively.

The project was ultimately possible because of the proximity and expertise of the Eveready-Kestrel plant. Wind power operations were a natural extension for this battery manufacturer, says Harvey, going on to describe how a wind turbine actually works: “The wind blows against the blades and starts to turn the turbine. Where the

blades connect, there’s a rod or generator that creates power within the hub. The faster the blades turn, the more power is created, which then travels via cable to a bank of batteries where the energy is stored for use whenever you switch on your facility. In our case, it’s linked to a water pump which irrigates our fields.”

Eveready-Kestrel – a formidable international reputation

Eveready-Kestrel has an impressive international reputation. Manufacturing durable, stringently tested, high-quality wind turbines for clients across the globe, the  company carries European certification and, in 2009, was recognised as the Proudly South African Innovator of the Year, It also achieved recognition as Best
Exporter in 2008 and 2009. “Not bad for the small city of Port Elizabeth,” points out Van Winkel.

The project’s only really just begun

It was therefore an exciting day when a 12-metre 1kW Kestrel turbine was erected on Knowling Field at St Andrew’s College, complete with an e150 battery charging system with a 12V fan and light, a LED clock and a 50Wspotlight to light the installation. “We’d need an entire bank of 12 m turbines to run the campus completely on
wind energy,” says Van Winkel, “but Simon’s determination has meant that at least we’re able to educate people on campus and in the community about workable alternative sources of energy.”

The St Andrew’s wind power project is by no means over, says Harvey. The turbine has a set of readable dials, enabling students to take daily readings all related to power
generation and usage. The data will enable the school to measure exactly how much wind energy can offset electricity costs. In addition to the solar panels recently installed in two boarding houses, wind energy is bringing St Andrew’s closer to its goal of going ‘off the grid’.

Wind power may soon run Grahamstown

The winds of change are not only blowing at St Andrew’s, however. Grahamstown has also attracted the attention of French company Innowind, in the business of  constructing wind farms since 2001. Innowind’s particularly attracted to the area just outside Grahamstown known as ‘Waainek’ (Afrikaans for ‘windy corner’). The town’s Grocott’s Mail newspaper recently reported that Waainek is “not too high above sea level and low enough to receive cold strong winds from the coast. This coastal wind is also denser than warm winds and therefore has the potential to generate greater amounts of power. This would be especially helpful in the colder months, when more power is used by residents.”

A wind farm, constructed in conjunction with Rhodes University, would feed into the town’s electricity grid, reducing the price of power from R1.25 to 26c per kwh, and
would be partly owned by the residents of the Makana region in the town. Stored wind power could also keep the whole town going, should Eskom resort to load shedding.
Should the proposal get the green light from the local municipality, 10 two megawatt turbines – each twice the height of the spire of Grahamstown’s Cathedral of St
Michael and St George (they need to be that big to generate enough power) and each costing around R25 000 000 – will be built over five months, using local labour. The Makana Winds of Change Trust attached to the project will run sustainable energy education projects at primary, secondary and tertiary level.

Wind gaining more favour than solar

Wind power is being taken seriously around the world. Google has just invested in the US$5 billion Atlantic Wind Connection project to erect a 350 mile stretch of wind turbines off the Atlantic coastline in the United States. Despite the size of this project, the American Wind Energy Association reports that China has installed three times
more wind-powered electricity than the USA over the last economic quarter.

Solar power is the other most environmentally popular alternative for generating electricity, but current thinking sways in favour of wind power. Van Winkel and Harvey
explain that wind turbines are virtually indestructible, while solar panels can shatter easily. “And, logically, if there’s no sun out, solar panels just don’t do the job,” adds Harvey.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in the US, “the manufacturing of photovoltaic cells [used to power solar panels] often requires hazardous materials such as arsenic and cadmium. Even relatively inert silicon – a major material used in solar cells – can be hazardous to workers if it is breathed in as dust. Wind farms, in contrast, involve nontoxic materials that take less energy to produce.”

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Category: Summer 2010

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