WEEK 46: MISSOURI
Hot Topics & Cold Places: Arctic Wind Energy Generates Interest in Missouri
By Crystal Shank, Online Content Manager for Missouri Wind and Solar, a family-owned business in Seymour, Missouri.
Despite being one of the coldest places on earth (for now), the Arctic is a hot topic of conversation in energy circles, especially when it comes to renewable energy. While renewable energy accounts for just under 4% of our net electricity generation in Missouri, it’s increasing, just as it is up north. People are learning that in areas that have constant wind — and there are plenty in both Missouri and the Arctic — the pay off can be huge financially and environmentally.
From our 15-person strong small business in the town of Seymour, Missouri (which we — not coincidentally — run almost entirely on renewable energy), Missouri Wind and Solar exports wind turbine and solar power systems around the world, including to Arctic locales. Thanks to word-of-mouth and my dad’s “how to” renewable energy Youtube videos, we have customers in Alaska, Canada, Iceland, and Norway all relying our systems to generate energy.
Speaking of videos and Arctic countries, we have a great customer who has also become a friend from a town just below the Arctic Circle in Skaugdalen, Norway, Mr. Tore Neverås. Tore is passionate and extremely knowledgeable about weather and wind and also has a wide collection of YouTube videos on these topics. Once, he even sent us a video of our own turbine after installing it:
Those who live off the grid in remote areas, as many folks in the Arctic do, appreciate the freedom and access to quiet, clean, and low-cost energy that wind and solar systems provide. This was the case for River Leaf Estuary Lodge in Nunavik, Canada, an Inuit-owned and operated outfitter for tourists who visit the region to catch world-class Arctic Char, Atlantic Salmon, and Sea run Trout in the Leaf River. The lodge is located on a remote site where the Leaf River and its estuary join Leaf Bay, part of Ungava Bay in northern Quebec, the region known as Nunavik. The lodge — which is entirely owned and operated by residents of Tasiujaq, a small Inuit village a few miles away — only accepts a limited number of clients each summer season in order to keep their fishing and way of life sustainable
As the lodge is extremely remote (one must travel hundreds of miles by plane from Montreal, then by prop jet and powerboat to reach it), it can’t simply plug into an urban power grid to power the few appliances and lights they do have. Their only choices are to either bring in their energy in the form of gasoline to run a generator or to generate it on-site through renewable energy systems.
Before their renewable systems were installed, the lodge would run a 5000 watt generator from early morning till late at night, filling its 6 gallon tank twice per day or more. With gas running about $10 a gallon in Tasiujaq, daily energy costs could run $120 per day (or more). The generator was also extremely noisy and would have to be unplugged at night to let the guests enjoy some peace and quiet.
Today, the Leaf River Estuary Lodge operates a 1600 watt Missouri Rebel 9 Blade Wind Turbine, paired with an existing solar panels and solar hot water heater.
The River Leaf Lodge and Estuary is the greenest camp in all of Nunavik — it has power 24/7 that’s both quiet and renewable.
Because the lodge operates only during the months of June, July and part of August the sun is an efficient source of electrical power and for the heating of hot water. The wind generator is also attractive as strong winds are often present. The lodge was recently renovated by a group of volunteers from Montreal and Boston and now features LED lighting, solar hot water, a wind generator and several solar panels.
The combination of wind and solar allows the camp to operate day and night, powering all electrical needs (fridge, freezer, lighting, small kitchen appliances, and TV for entertainment). The renewable electrical sources also charge a bank of deep-cycle AGM batteries. Our gasoline generator still stands ready to assist, but only if the wind doesn’t blow and the sun is hidden behind dark clouds for extended periods.
- Dr. Henry I. Smith, a Leaf River Lodge and Estuary volunteer and retired professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and fellow volunteer James Murray, a Computer Engineer, Electrotechnology and Master Electrician.
Another one of our customers can be found on the west coast of the Arctic Country of Iceland, a country where, amazingly, 100% of energy comes from renewable sources. While Iceland is perhaps more well-known for its use of geothermal energy and hydro power, the island nation also looks to wind energy.
A few years ago, Vatnshellir Cave in Snæfellsjökull National Park in western Iceland ordered one of our wind turbines to power their office. The 115 foot deep (about equal in height to a 12 story building), 650 foot long cave attracts thousands of visitors each year who come to see this spectacular lava cave formed by an ancient volcanic eruption.
While below the surface the cave may be silent and still, the strong winds that blow across Iceland above cam push wind turbine systems to their limits. While our Raptor blades (made of a carbon fiber composite) are rated for up to 125 mph and made to withstand freezing temperatures as well, the permanent magnet generator and the mechanics inside are an entirely different matter. Wind turbines are designed to be under a load at all times. This means that some piece of equipment or an appliance must be drawing power from the battery bank. In a wind storm, the turbine has an abundance of wind which will quickly charge the batteries. When the batteries are full, there is no resistance being pushed back to the turbine and it will spin wildly, creating excessive heat in the generator, which eventually causes it to cease up. The sudden braking can cause a metal shaft to shear off, hurling the blade set into the air, which can be a serious hazard.
While extreme heat, cold, and sun do not affect blade integrity, too much wind can be catastrophic for the motor. The primary challenge when it comes to installing a wind turbine in areas like the Arctic is finding a way to take the system down when truly extreme conditions arise.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to our wind turbine at Vatnshellir Cave. In March 2015, the area experienced a day of 62 mph winds on average with gusts over 125 mph, the maximum limit for our turbines. The extreme wind gusts that sheared the shaft of the turbine — the blades were all still intact, though, despite being thrown quite a distance from tower.
Does this mean wind power is dangerous? Quite the opposite. With thoughtful planning, a residential wind turbine tower can be designed to raise and lower the unit to prevent any damage (as our friend Tore in Norway has done). Wind power is perfect for rural, remote areas that don’t have reliable grid power or a lack of municipal utilities altogether.
Speaking of remote areas, another one of our Arctic customers is Canadian Shawn Marriott. Over the past two years, Shawn has been in the process of building an off-grid cabin in Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island in Nunavut, Canada, far above the Arctic Circle. The weather is harsh in Cambridge Bay, with winter temperatures averaging around minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, the sun stays below the horizon from approximately November 30 to January 11, which makes for a very cold and dark winter. Summers aren’t much easier, with temperatures at an average high of 55 degrees.
Shawn started using wind power during the construction process. Before the structure’s second story ever went up, he installed three wind turbines and seven solar panels from Missouri Solar, which generated over 6,300 watts of power generation at his building site. The turbines went up before the onset of winter to track the power output to ensure the power generated would keep up with his energy demands.
The wind turbines Shawn installed power not only the household lights and appliances, but also all the power tools, compressor, and table saws as well. As the cabin continued along, Shawn also built a standalone wind turbine tower to accommodate three wind turbines, to which he also plans to add an additional 1000 watt wind turbine.
The power from Shawn’s turbines feeds into a battery bank, which is connected to a pre-designed charge controller board and 6000 watt split phase power inverter housed inside the cabin where it’s safe from the elements. As a backup power supply, Shawn has a transfer switch that changes over to a generator for calm days with no wind should the batteries run empty. However, today, Shawn’s structure is pretty much completely off the grid, and he doesn’t even have to run all of his systems consecutively because he has so much output and is able to store so much energy in his batteries.
While it’s not always easy, Shawn has proven that with determination and the right tools, wind energy can work for those living in the Arctic.
In addition to having a good amount of determination (which many people living in the Arctic already have in spades) and a bit of technological aptitude, here is some additional advice from our customers who have installed wind turbines in the Arctic:
- Buy the best quality equipment within your budget and skip the plastic turbines. Metal holds up better in extreme cold and will last for decades to come;
- Don’t forgo regular maintenance. You’ll never regret taking the time to tighten a few bolts or grease some bearings; and
- Go with a company that offers complete systems that take the guesswork out of it. You’ll save money and hassle in the long run by getting components that are perfectly matched and are designed to work together.
As a general rule, our company recommends a hybrid power system that incorporates both solar panels and wind turbines. Wind is not constant and neither is daylight, so matching both systems together provides the best charging for an off-grid systems.
Wind energy can be a great solution for customers in these rural and remote situations — we look forward to welcoming many more Arctic customers in the future!
About the Author: Crystal Shank is the Online Content Manager at Missouri Wind and Solar, a small business in Seymour, Missouri that her father started seven years ago after noticing a gap in the residential wind power sector in Missouri. She has a degree in horticulture from the Auburn University in Alabama and before joining the renewable energy industry owned her own landscaping business. In her spare time she works for the humane society in her current hometown of LaGrange, Georgia. You can reach her at Crystal@shank.us.