The conversion of wind power to electrical power

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The electrical-producing windmill industry boomed during 1983. It was estimated that"unit sales during 1983 would be twice those of the prior 10 years combined." Most of the activity has been in the development of windfarms in the western states and Hawaii. The boom is largely due to (1) tax breaks given to alternative energy producers and (2) the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978. PURPA requires public utilities to purchase electricity from small producers. In many instances, the investors main interest was the tax break and as a result the development was of inferior quality.⁴⁰

Electrical-producing windmills are delicate machines in that lightweight components are used to move large forces. Domestically, there are about 50 manufacturers of electrical-producing windmills. Most of these manufacturers have just entered the field. As such, they have not had time to perfect their machines. And as a result, 50% downtimes are not uncommon and failures are frequent.⁴⁰

In the mid-70's, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) embarked on a large scale program for the research and development of windmills. In 1982 the program was drastically cut by the Reagan administration. While the program was in full swing, significant steps were made in 129 130 developing safe, reliable wind energy systems.

Wind energy systems could probably supply up to ten percent of the nation's annual electrical demands, but one to two percent is a more reasonable goal. For this to happen the government must not cut its existing financial incentives, existing windfarms must prove to be economical, private manufacturers must develop high quality wind energy systems, and windfarms must be developed at sites throughout the country.