Wind Machine

Dan Whitehead

©1997 Dan Whitehead

Left: Dan with appropriate tower climbing gear: Safety belt with two lanyards,tool pouches, and work gloves.

I once heard Michael Hackleman say that if you own a wind generator your life is an adventure. Sometimes that is an understatement.

I have lived with wind machines since 1984 and I do not regret one minute of it. I now have three machines running and am in the process of installing a fourth on our property. My wife says that four is enough. I personally do not agree since we all know that you can never have too much power. Sometimes it is an adventure and other times it is pure joy. If you sit back and do nothing, soon the wind machine will become a costly monument in your yard that will bring you nothing but grief.

Do It Yourself

If at all possible, you need to perform your own maintenance on your wind machine. This way you will learn all about your particular wind system and you will become much in "tune" with your machine. For instance, if your machine starts to make an unfamiliar sound you will immediately recognize it and possibly avoid a major problem before it happens.

If you cannot climb, help out the person you contract to do the work. Another ground crew person is always welcome during the job. This way you can stay in touch with the machine and keep an eye on the work that is being done. Use binoculars to watch the service work being performed. This way you can be assured that the work is being done to your satisfaction.

Proper Tools a Must

First and most important is to get a good safety belt. Do not ever climb the tower without it. Inspect and test the safety belt before you go up. Once you are up at the top, tie yourself off with the lanyard. You now can lean back and have the use of both hands to work. If you still have some fear of letting go with both hands, try using two lanyards. You do not really need two, but your mind will be more at ease knowing there is a backup if one breaks. This should make it much easier to let go with both hands and be at ease to work without the fear of falling off.

Next you will need some rope, about 2 1/2 times the height of your tower. Spend some money and get good quality rope. I use rock climbing rope. You can get this from any army surplus store. You will need a good quality pulley to attach up top. Leather gloves for you and the ground crew are a must. The first time you try hoisting tools up or down without gloves will show you why you need them. The rope will burn you in a hurry.

Below: The right tools (including voice activated two-way radios) can make all the difference.

Above: It's a long way up...and a long way down; work safely!

Use a 5 gallon bucket and one of those Bucket Boss tool organizers. The Bucket Boss fits into the bucket and holds all types of tools neatly. Get an assortment of wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, pliers, and anything else that you need for your particular machine. Use another 5 gallon bucket for hoisting parts, oil, grease, etc., up and down the tower.

One thing that I have found to be quite handy is a set of two-way radios for communicating with your ground crew. It is often difficult to communicate with people on the ground from 100 feet up in the air. I use a voice-activated headset for hands-free operation. Just talk and it works. It makes the job much easier.You can get these radios from any electronics catalog or Radio Shack. My radios are Maxon brand and they came from the Damark catalog.

Time for the Climb

After the equipment has all been laid out and the ground crew briefed about the job, it is time for the climb. The words here are slow and easy. There is no need to race to the top. Also, this is not the time to sight

Left: Look Ma...Lanyards provide a hands free yet safe way to work on your tower and bird.

see—keep your mind focused on the climb. There will be plenty of time to take in the view once you including are tied off at the top. If an accident is going to happen, this is the most likely time. The climb up and down is when you are most at risk so be extra careful and keep your mind on what you are doing.

Things to Check

I like to take a check list with me so I do not miss anything. First, take a general look at everything. Look for anything unusual like bolts loose or missing. Check all moving parts making sure they move freely and look for signs of wear.

Next, start your scheduled maintenance. Grease bearings, change oil, etc. As you perform these tasks pay close attention to every detail. Check every single bolt up there making sure they are tight. This is very important. Use Loctite or self-locking nuts on everything.

Next give the rotor a detailed inspection. Check each blade from top to bottom for nicks, cracks, and excess dirt and bugs. A heavily soiled rotor can lose up to 15% efficiency. It is difficult to do, but washing the blades can really help your yearly production. Grab the blade and rock it in and out from the tower checking for worn bearings in the generator or gearbox. There should be little or no noticeable play in the bearings.

Check the wiring for loose connections, but make sure the power is off first. When you think you are done, take a break and enjoy the view for a few minutes. Go back one last time and check everything again to make sure that you did not miss anything the first time through.

When everything looks good, send the tools back down and prepare to come down. This is the time to check all the tower bolts. Descend one section at a time and carefully inspect the tower for loose bolts, cracked or broken bracing, etc. If you find a problem, tie off first then work on the problem. Do not try to tighten bolts and hang on to the tower at the same time. Once you are on the ground, check any wiring connections at the tower base and back in the house at the control center.

Things to Keep It Running

Listen to the machine every day. Get used to the way it sounds in all types of wind conditions. This way if it makes a new sound you will immediately be aware of it and be able to spot small problems before they become big expensive ones. A lot of times a new noise is

Below: check the system top to bottom, the wiring and connections from genny to house.

something that is working loose up there. If caught right away, you can quickly repair the problem and in 30 minutes be running again. But if you let that bolt fall out, you could have a catastrophic failure that might set you back thousands of dollars.

Storm Coming?

Lightning is a wind generator's biggest enemy. I advise my customers to watch the weather and shut down the machine during a thunderstorm. This means locking the brake and disconnecting the inverter from the grid. Most of the time lightning-induced power surges come back from the utility side and cause havoc with the electronics in our systems. Once in a while a tower will get hit or a nearby strike can induce a surge into the generator. This can destroy the inverter or the generator. The little bit of electricity that you will make during a thunderstorm is not worth the risk that you take. Also, the winds in a thunderstorm are violent and usually well above the maximum running speed of any machine. This puts extra stress on your machine and tower. A major rebuild can set you back thousands of dollars. It is just not worth the risk. There are plenty of windy days without the storms.

Tower work does not have to be intimidating. Have an experienced tower worker help you the first time. I am

Below: The view is great, but work while you're working and set aside time for sightseeing.

Above: Dan checks the bearings by wiggling the blades in and out.

always willing to help anyone who wants to learn how to safely work on their machine. Experienced tower workers can offer advice and encouragement during this time.

Servicing your wind machine is a great Sunday project in the spring and fall for the whole family. While you are up there, take in the view, it is spectacular. With a little care and attention to details your wind generator will last for many years. These machines will work their heart out for you if you pay them a little attention.

These are the basics to keeping your life with a wind machine a pleasant adventure.


Author, Dan Whitehead, Illowa Windworks, 12197 Nelson Rd., Morrison, IL 61270 • 815-772-4403.

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Leigh & Pat Westwell

©1997 Leigh & Pat Westwell

©1997 Leigh & Pat Westwell

his is one of the more interesting projects my wife and I, here at Sunpower in Eastern Ontario, have put together. We have worked with our Federal and Provincial Governments to provide an alternative water sources for livestock through the CURB Program (Clean Up Rural Beaches). This program is designed to entice farmers to fence livestock out of the waterways by funding up to 75% of the fencing cost and providing another water source.

Previously these projects were limited to summer use only, which is relatively easy. When local farmer, Andy Roy, expressed an interest in a year-round system, I did some research to see how feasible this was given our severe winters here in the "great white north." My investigations were discouraging. Local farmers had tried insulated water bowls and had them freeze. Recommendations from one of our suppliers involved a propane heated building with large mud flaps on the doorway which the cattle could push aside to enter the building and access the water bowls.

Our own self-designed and constructed home is buried 15 feet into the south side of a hill in a V shape to utilize ground heat and funnel in sunlight. Ground temperature below the 4 foot frost line is around 50°F year round, regardless of the outside temperature. In the winter if the sun is shining the house heats itself. I figured that by using the same principles, ground source heat and sunshine, we could make this water pumping station work.

Part of ensuring that the water in the bowl did not freeze was determining the water temperature in the well. Without access to a high-tech temperature sensor, as used to find

Below: The well head is visible in the center of the soon to be poured concrete slab foundation.

thermoclines in lakes, I used a thermometer in a weighted can with small holes in the bottom. I left the unit at the depth the pump would be (50 feet) and letting it sit for a bit. I pulled the can out quickly so that the water would not leak out the small holes in the can by the time I could read the thermometer. We did several tests and found the water temperature to be around 48° F. This seemed acceptable because we were worried that if the water was any colder that it would freeze in the tank if the cattle did not drink for a few hours. Part of the design was sizing the water bowl so that when the livestock were drinking a good percentage of the water, warmer water replaces the colder water in the bowl regularly.

At this point we approached the government agencies funding the CURB Program. They were very interested because they had been having problems getting the farmers interested in the program even with 75% funding. (Rule #1 of farming—don't spend any money!). We designed a system that would have all of the "bells and whistles" so the agencies could show farmers that alternative energy works! Hopefully more will see applications for their own farms and help to clean up our creeks and rivers.

The project began by adding fill around the old well casing so that we had 6 feet of dirt before bedrock. We installed a 6 foot insulated tube around the casing and 2 inches of board type insulation around the top where the water bowl would sit. A 3 inch reinforced concrete pad was poured for the building to keep runoff away from the well. Andy produced the lumber for the building on his sawmill. We bolted the building securely to the pad and buried the front posts deeply to keep the south facing open end from catching the wind.

The pitch of the roof was designed to let in maximum sun in the cold months when the sun is low in the sky. As the weather warms and the sun rises in the sky, the inside of the shelter is shaded and will keep the water cool and fresh. Another function of the building is to shelter the water bowl from the cold winds of winter. The temperature might be -20°F but a stiff breeze could lower that to -60°F. Nothing stays unfrozen for long then. The weather is not that bad very often but once frozen it is a long time until spring to be without water. Fortunately, our coldest days are sunny and clear (no clouds to keep the heat down near the earth) and the sun keeps the shelter quite comfortable, especially when combined with ground heat from the well itself as lllllllll























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