Approaching the National Renewable Energy Laboratory National Wind Technology Center (NREL NWTC), tucked into the quiet foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, CO, I couldn’t help but imagine its Department of Energy researchers like the dogged, faceless scientists in James Bond movies, stashed in a hidden government compound toiling away at the newest secret weapon or destructive gadget for the next MI6 mission.
Fortunately, what actually happens at the National Wind Technology Center is much less dangerous and much more beneficial to the enhancement of the wind industry in the United States. The nearly 100 employees at the NWTC study the efficiency of wind turbines and components in order to help the industry achieve greater productivity and become more cost effective, with the ultimate goal of increasing the penetration of wind energy throughout the country.
On the technical side, the NWTC focuses on the advancement of both utility-scale and small wind turbine systems through testing systems (like hanging weights from blades to see how they may wear and perhaps even tear), modeling of aerodynamics and structural mechanics, and integration systems studies.
NWTC also coordinates the DoE’s Wind Powering America Program that focuses on local audiences, such as states, tribes, public utility commissions, or legislatures, to “mitigate the nontechnical barriers to wind integration.” They use tools like the Job & Economic Development Impact (JEDI) [Economic] Model, to illustrate to local communities how in both the near and long-terms, wind is a viable and valuable source of energy. In short, they’re showing people across America, what wind can do for them.
Amidst cutbacks at NREL, the Wind for Schools program, an important part of Wind Powering America, was expanded to include 11 more states that will benefit from small wind systems, which link local communities directly to the benefits of wind energy.
Although it works without dagger shoes, homing pills, or laser-beam watches, the NWTC is making great strides in the national movement toward further innovation and progress in renewable energy development, and specifically, of the homegrown “secret weapon” that is wind power.