Wind Turbines Part of Future 'Green' Power
Andrea Siedsma | Dec. 13, 2010
From L to R, UCSD structural engineering doctoral
student Ian Prowell, structural engineering professor Ahmed Elgamal, and
Ed Duggan, executive vice president of Oak Creek Energy Systems.
As wind farms become a growing critical component of the world’s green power generation, industry leaders and researchers are studying their performance and looking for ways to further enhance their seismic design. Earlier this year, for example, engineers at UC San Diego tested an 80-foot wind turbine in 2010 under a series of simulated earthquakes of 7.0 magnitude and greater. This was the first time a wind turbine was tested on a shake table with the blades in operation. The tests were performed at the UCSD Englekirk Structural Engineering Center, home of the world’s largest outdoor shake table, and the only facility capable of testing a full scale wind turbine. The testing was funded by a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
The 65-kilowatt turbine, donated by Oak Creek Energy Systems, was built in the 1980s and operated in Tehachapi, Calif. The same materials are used to build modern-day wind turbines, which stand 300 feet tall and higher. Little seismic research has been conducted on wind turbines until now.
UCSD engineers recently tested an 80-foot wind turbine under strong simulated earthquakes.
“I expect we’re going to see a vast increase in wind farms, which gives even more importance to this work, especially since more turbines will be deployed in areas with seismic activity,” said Jacobs School structural engineering professor Ahmed Elgamal, principal investigator for the turbine tests. Other researchers on the project included UCSD structural engineering professors Enrique Luco and Chia-Min Uang, as well as Doctoral. student Ian Prowell.
The data collected by the researchers will be used to define building guidelines for and improve the overall reliability of wind turbines. For Prowell, who finishes his Ph.D. at UCSD this year, the wind turbine project represents the future of sustaining renewable energy resources and their infrastructure.
“With a project like this one we are looking at sustainable structures as part of a green economy,” Prowell said. “We are looking at the bigger picture of sustainability. Not only are we determining if these structures are strong enough to withstand an earthquake but we are looking at the likely damage we will see in these structures in an earthquake. There has been a lot of interest in structural engineering to study sustainable structures.
“My motivation behind being a structural engineer is to work on A project like this one where I can make a contribution,” he added. “I like to feel like my work is valuable and that I’m making an impact.”
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