Jake Farley is a wind tech interested in all things O&M.
It’s hard to keep up with technology’s rapid advancements. With each new release, yesterday’s cutting edge computer or device becomes obsolete. You know progress is a great thing, but at the same time you’re afraid of being left behind.
As a wind worker, I can relate. The wind industry is the epitome of progress, but I work on turbines designed back in the 1980’s – not exactly state of the art. It doesn’t help that newer turbines have sprung up all around our park. Three times taller than our turbines, these 300 foot towers make me feel like the little leagues.
The first question anyone asks me when I tell them I’m a wind technician is, “So how high up are you?” Almost sheepishly, I explain “I work on older turbines that are only a hundred feet tall.” Usually they’re not any less impressed. As a technician, I know that the size of turbines is the least of their differences. I’m concerned my technical skills are becoming outdated.
Wanting to gain relevant experience was my main motivation to help out at one of our newer wind farms this summer. It was my first opportunity to climb a next-generation turbine, comparable to the models that tower over mine back home. This contrast fascinates me the most. I couldn’t help but constantly compare the sophistication and magnitude with older technology back home.
Wind energy technology has made impressive progress in the last 25 years. Larger rotors, taller towers, and more sophisticated generators have increased the power capacity and lowered the costs wind energy. Representative models from the 1990s had 30m rotors and 300kw of capacity, today’s turbines have an average rotor size of 100m and 3MW of capacity. When I think of the progress we’ve made, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds.
That future is largely dependent on whether or not we continue in the smart government policies that have fostered such rapid development. The wind industries growth proves that the Production Tax Credit and Department of Energy’s Wind Program are sound public investments.
I learned a lot this summer. Not only am I unashamed of maintaining an older technology, I consider it a privilege.
Now and then, I’ll take a moment to enjoy my unique vantage point. Decades apart and standing side by side, the two generations of turbines are a testament to how far the industry has come and how far it can go.