A New Spin on agriculture: Wind turbines provide energy optionsWritten by Saige Albert
Ron Terrazas is passionate about working with producers in the agriculture industry to improve efficiencies on farms and ranches across the U.S., and his efforts have been working to improve access to energy.
“This is a pioneering effort in agriculture,” Terrazas says of his work with wind energy. “Distributed generation of power makes sense for many producers.”
Terrazas explains that distributed generation produces power outside of a central power plant.
“Rather than having giant power plants or wind farms that generate energy and put it into long distance transmission lines, a lot of people would rather produce their own power locally,” he says.
Transmission lines are expensive and result in a seven to eight percent loss of power. Power generated remotely and passed through transmission lines is also subject to outages and failure.
Solar is the most common form of distributed power generation, Terrazas says, “Until our product, small wind just wasn’t efficient.”
Terrazas is the co-founder of Prudencia Power, the sales and financing partner of Change Wind Corporation. Change Wind is an American manufacturer of vertical axis wind turbines, rather than traditional horizontal turbines.
Benefits of vertical
Change Wind’s turbines cost around $60,000 and are approximately as tall as a telephone pole.
The turbines, crafted in small machine shops on the East Coast, are quiet and produce electricity at low wind velocity. They are delivered via truck or rail, can be installed within a few days and only require a small, concrete pad.
“After ranchers buy and install the turbines, they can get a tax credit,” Terrazas says. “These turbines also generate power more cheaply than using solar arrays.”
While vertical axis wind turbines have been around for nearly 80 years, he says they have largely failed because of the stack weight – or the weight of the turbine.
“They were heavy, and they weren’t efficient,” he explains. “The people who started Change Wind came from the automobile manufacturing industry. They applied techniques used in race cars to wind turbines.”
For example, magnetic levitation technology enables turbines to spin with reduced friction. A breeze of only five miles per hour causes Change Wind turbines to spin.
Change Wind turbines utilize turbulent air, rather than laminar wind flow.
“Laminar wind is only available at high altitude, so wind turbines like the giant ones we see in Wyoming have to be tall where the wind blows steadily,” Terrazas says. “Turbulent air is available at the surface.”
Creating wind power
In areas with good wind, Terrazas explains that a turbine can power a farm or ranch and limit payments to a utility company.
“The maximum theoretical power generation is 300,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per year,” he says. “With an average wind speed of eight miles per hour, we can get 100,000 kilowatt-hours per year generated from these wind turbines.”
The average American household utilizes about 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month, meaning a turbine could power 10 houses per year with an average wind speed of eight miles per hour.
“There is potential to cut power costs in a big way,” Terrazas says.
He also notes that even if ranchers don’t go completely off the grid, wind power provides an opportunity to reduce electricity bills.
“Once we reach a certain amount of energy consumption, the electricity bill goes way up,” he adds. “This might provide a way to supplement energy needs.”
“Power output increases with the cube of the wind velocity,” Terrazas says. “It doesn’t take much more wind speed to create a whole lot of power.”
At the same time, the turbines also come equipped with a braking system to preserve the life of the turbine. Wind speeds higher than 12 miles per hour influence the system to begin braking.
Another common concern is the intermittency of the wind, Terrazas adds.
“The wind doesn’t blow all the time,” he comments, noting that they estimate that power can be produced one-third of the time. “The power can be stored if ranchers invest in a battery, or if they want to plug into the grid, that is an option, too.”
Terrazas explains that vertical axis wind is relatively new to agriculture, but he sees a lot of potential for the future.
“Up until now, most of our sales have been directed toward the military, but we know there is a huge demand,” he says. “We also know that wind power has been inefficient. We know ranchers need power, and we think this can help supply ranchers.”
As a Wyoming-based company, Terrazas says the remote nature of the ag industry in the state provides the perfect opportunity to expand power supply in the state.
“This can provide ranchers with a way to supply power to places they might not have been able to supply before or to areas where it was expensive to ship power to,” Terrazas adds. “There is a lot of potential for the ag industry.”