Americans love to talk about the weather. Discussing how hot, cold, rainy or windy it is outside has become an integral part of conversing with everyone from complete strangers to in-laws. But what if all our idle gabbing about the weather could eventually lead to lower energy costs and a cleaner environment?
In an effort to improve the state’s ability to harness energy from one particular type of weather — wind — the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is providing detailed wind maps of the state to property owners and has launched an anemometer loan program.
The department hopes that the maps, combined with the loan program, will help businesses and landowners identify locations that are prime sources of wind power.
Anemometers are small devices that are 7 inches in diameter and about the size of a telephone. They record the wind speed and density at a specific location, which allows landowners to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of installing turbines on their property to produce wind energy.
Rick Anderson of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Energy Center said he first learned about the new generation of wind maps two years ago. A number of other states, including New Mexico, have had similar maps prepared. The department applied for and received funds from the Department of Energy.
The maps, which are currently available on the department’s Web site, offer landowners a quick and easy way to find out if their properties are exposed to a level of wind that would make them suitable for installing turbines and converting the wind into energy.
The maps predict wind speeds at heights of 30, 50, 70 and 100 meters above ground level.
Tracing wind patterns
The maps were created by AWS TrueWind, a New York-based energy firm, using funds from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Powering America and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The maps are still subject to validation by the National Renewable Energy Lab and by consulting meteorologists.
TrueWind uses a computerized weather model similar to those used by weather forecasters. The model is a computer system that predicts wind speed patterns by using data collected over the past several decades.
The model relies on satellites to re-establish the peculiarity of the land contours and vegetation at each location because these are factors that affect wind density and speed.
Anderson said the department also collects site-specific data. These recordings are made by anemometers distributed through the loan program.
The program offers something for both property owners and the department. Property owners discover whether their property has sufficient wind exposure, and the anemometers store data about the wind behavior at a specific location for the department.
The department asks for data feedback on a monthly basis. The anemometer stores information in a data log every ten minutes and has two plugs that can each contain up to seven months of recording.
“It’ s overwhelming how much information in progress it captures, up to 50,000 readings,” Anderson said. “It shows the fluctuation between day and night, minimum and maximum and, of course, a wider range of wind speed data between seasons and weather conditions.”
The anemometers used in the loan project are installed on 66-foot towers. If the request to borrow an anemometer is approved, an Energy Center employee visits the site and helps install the equipment. The department also provides assistance in the analysis of the collected data.
“The service is a very useful way to determine if the wind speed available on their property would be feasible for the turbines the individual is considering according to their needs, and to test if the installment will be cost-effective,” Anderson said.
To have an accurate idea of the wind power, Anderson said the anemometers need to be left in use for at least one year. A year’s worth of data is needed because that time allows the devices to record information under most weather conditions and all seasons, thus verifying the consistency of the wind.
After wind speed and strength are assessed, a feasible turbine needs to be selected – one that matches the wind quality with the quantity of energy needed.
Wind turbines use two or three propeller-like blades that, placed on a rotor, spin in the wind and produce electricity through a generator. The turbines sit 100 feet or more atop towers, enabling them to capture stronger and less turbulent wind.
Larger wind turbines usually operate together on wind farms to produce electricity for utilities. Small turbines are used by homeowners, many of whom live in remote areas, to help them meet their energy needs.
The energy can be used to generate electricity, charge batteries, pump water or grind grain. Turbines can also be connected to a utility power grid or combined with a solar-cell system.
A team effort
Property owner Valerie Schumann had a tower equipped with an anemometer installed on her property last fall. Schumann lives on 195 acres of farmland near Faucett.
Last August she applied to the loan program after seeing an ad in the local newspaper. She visited the department’s Web site and filled out the loan form.
“I live on a beautiful farmland, and I see it taken over by industries and commercial buildings time after time, and it’s depressing,” Schumann said. “Wind is a free source. It’s clean and is always there, and putting up a wind generator can also be financially beneficial for farmers.”
Schumann said her neighbors and friends, along with Anderson, helped put up the tower. Anderson also explained them how the anemometer works. Each month Schumann sends back the plug with the data and receives a new one from the department.
Anderson said, so far, 40 people have applied and 10 anemometers have been borrowed. One was also checked out by one of Anderson’s DNR colleagues, Mike Bumgardner, who installed it on his own property in California before the loan program began in Missouri.
“Besides installing it to learn how to use it and how to assist other clients when they would check it out, I did it out of curiosity,” Bumgardner said. “Using renewable energy has always been in the back of my mind.”
He had the device for a year before it was removed in December 2003. Bumgardner said his experience helped him understand how to make the installation process as efficient as possible.
“There are simple things you don’t even think about,” Bumgardner said. “For example, you need to build a fence or protection around the tower if you have cattle because if a cow starts rubbing against guy wires, the tower can easily be destroyed.” Anderson and Bumgardner both mentioned the importance of assisting farmers in setting up the tower and the anemometer.
“It can be a very exhausting day for two people trying to set it up, and it’s not as easy as it seems,” Bumgardner said.
But Schumann’s experience appears to be typical of most installations.
“At times the landowner’s friends and neighbors gather there just out of curiosity and help you all together,” Anderson said. “It can be fun.”
Bumgardner’s property in California wasn’t windy enough to make it cost effective to produce energy for his personal use. But he said even if a property doesn’t have a consistent wind source, landowners could use turbines in conjunction with solar panels.
“It is really a good variety of input, when the wind is not blowing, the sun is often shining and vice-versa,” he said.
And Bumgardner hasn’t given up hope of one day installing wind turbines on his property.
“I’ll just have to wait a little longer for lower-cost turbines to be developed,” he said. “You can install turbines and solar panels almost anywhere, and it’s an unlimited clean source of energy. I’ll definitely play with it in the future.”