Energy Pipeline: Wind energy research just a jog away from Colorado oil patch

Source: By The Tribune • Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2015

Wind energy has changed drastically since wind turbines started popping up in the 1980s and much of its development, research and production is happening right in our backyard. Colorado is considered a national leader in the wind energy industry.

Colorado is home to the National Wind Technology Center just south of Boulder; and the leader in wind turbine production, Vestas, has four locations in Colorado, three in northern Colorado.

“The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Wind Technology Center at NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) is at the forefront of energy innovation. For more than three decades, our researchers have spent countless hours building unparalleled expertise in renewable energy technologies while supporting the vision that wind and water can create clean, reliable and cost-effective electricity,” said Brian Smith, director of the National Wind Technology Center or NWTC. “The NWTC strives to be an essential partner to companies, other DOE laboratories, government agencies and universities around the world seeking to create a better, more sustainable future.”

The NWTC is five miles south of Boulder and sits on 305 acres. It experiences winds at more than 100 miles per hour, making it an ideal setting for testing the reliability and performance of wind turbines.

“The NWTC comprises the necessary infrastructure, highly experienced staff and state-of-the-art equipment needed to provide its partners and stakeholders with a full spectrum of research and development capabilities to develop everything at one location,” Smith said. “From small residential wind turbines to utility-scale offshore wind and water power technologies.”

As the West was being electrified, smaller-scale windmills were used as a power source. Wind power on a utility-level scale came to life in the 1980s, primarily in California. Since then, it’s continued to grow and is now an international renewable energy source.

The wind is harnessed by large turbines which turn the wind into usable energy.

A major energy provider in Weld County, Xcel Energy offers a program called Windsource to allow customers to pay a little extra every month to get some or all of their energy from wind energy. The program began more than 15 years ago.

“Colorado has excellent wind resources and Xcel Energy is capitalizing on this wind to deliver clean, affordable renewable energy to customers,” according to a statement from Xcel. It said wind power is its most affordable renewable resource. “We continue to grow our use of wind power in Colorado.”

Also capitalizing on this renewable energy source is Vestas, which has four wind turbine production facilities in Colorado. The company is confident wind energy will continue to grow.

“Fossil fuels are a finite resource that will gradually disappear,” according to a statement on the Vestas web site. “The natural replacement is sweeping freely around the earth. Wind.

“It’s renewable, predictable, fast to install, clean and commercially viable.”

Vestas predicts that by 2020, as much as 10 percent of the world’s electricity will come from wind. It has installed wind turbines in 73 countries around the world.

Part of the NWTC’s mission is to work side by side with industry partners to develop new technologies that can compete in the global market, increase system reliability and reduce energy costs. Field testing at the NWTC assess the performance and reliability of wind turbines before they enter the commercial market. Testing of protypes saves manufacturers such as Vestas from making expensive blunders.

The NWTC’s field test sites are integrated with a controllable power grid simulator that helps ensure turbines can be safely and reliably operated on a utility grid.

“NWTC is the nation’s premier wind energy technology research facility,” Smith said.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, another agency with which NWTC collaborates, Colorado is ranked 10th in the nation in number of wind turbines. Texas is No. 1.

“Some people get all wrapped up with where you rank,” Smith said. “What’s important is how wind energy is meeting the needs of the particular state or region. Colorado is unlikely to be No. 1. Texas is a huge state with an independent power grid and a lot of electricity demand.”

Along with traditional fossil fuels, wind energy will continue to be an important renewable resource and helps diversify the Colorado economy.

“Renewable energy provides jobs and economic value to local and regional communities,” Smith said.

Wind energy is a clean, renewable form of energy that uses virtually no water. It pumps billions of dollars into the economy every year. It’s drought-resistant and produces zero greenhouse gas emissions. Wind energy provides and economic investment to rural communities through lease payments to landowners on which turbines are placed.

“Colorado is a national leader in the wind energy industry,” according to AWEA. At least 22 manufacturing facilities in Colorado are creating high quality jobs and producing components for the wind industry. The manufacturing supply chain in Colorado includes global companies such as wind turbine manufacturer Vestas and steel producer O’Neal Steel, according to AWEA.

Colorado currently generates 13.6 percent of its in-state electricity from wind power. This growth is saving consumers money. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has stated that a single wind purchase by Xcel Energy “will save ratepayers $100 million over its 25-year term.”

Meanwhile, research continues at the National Wind Technology Center.

“Our mission is related to reducing the cost of energy for wind and water power technologies and accelerating the deployment of those technologies across the nation,” NWTC director Smith said.