BERLIN — Town residents may have been surprised to see a much smaller than expected wind turbine turning silently in Berlin this week, but the sight is temporary, as it’s only being used to collect wind data and will be replaced this summer by a much larger construct.
Installed last week, the current, 7kw turbine sits on the former Rayne’s Sand and Gravel property on Old Ocean City Boulevard. The machine is collecting data on wind speed and direction that will be taken into account when the larger, 50kw turbine is installed. The smaller, 21-foot tall device with four-foot blades is also serving as a test run in construction for its 65-foot tall, 19-foot bladed big brother.
“The 7KW wind turbine is collecting data regarding wind direction and speed to be used to build a 50kW gearless wind turbine,” said Laura Allen, town administrator for Berlin. “Once that process is complete in the next three to four months, the smaller wind turbine will be removed and replaced by the 50kw wind turbine.”
The plan all along was to have a preliminary machine in place to take measurements before bringing in the main device, according to Doug Richards, president of DDU Magnetics, the company behind the turbines.
“It was all along a prototype test platform,” he said. “We’ll use those to catch the mistakes before they’re amplified … mostly endurance and any construction techniques or improvements we can gain.”
Another important factor is how the design will stand up to extreme weather. With temperatures reaching the single digits this month, Richards believes this will be as good of a stress test as could be performed.
It’s been a long road filled with several delays to finally have a wind turbine installed in Berlin, even if it’s only a smaller model that will be removed late spring or early summer. The original proposal from DDU to the Town Council came more than a year ago and was stalled after east Berlin residents complained about the originally selected property, prompting the change to the current spot on Old Ocean City Boulevard. Another hurdle came up just this fall with components for the machine. A turbine was expected to be spinning by November but was pushed back until just last week.
In spite of all of the hold ups, there is still a lot of excitement over the turbine. That stems from how uncharted the technology behind the device is.
“The generator produces what’s called ‘DC,’ direct current,” said Tim Lawrence, director of Electric Utility. “All of the other wind generators are AC. This is the difference. This is DC.”
Lawrence told the council Monday that a wind turbine like Richards’ that utilizes a DC current could be groundbreaking.
“Many, many years ago they tried to develop wind generation using DC but they kept burning the generators up so they gave up on the idea,” Lawrence said. “Well he kept going with it and he finally developed it. By generating DC versus AC, which is Alternating Current, you lower the cost of the generator, you lower the height but it maintains the same output as an AC generator would. Plus the life span is extended because you don’t have gears in it.”
Richards is in the process of seeking a second patent for his design and believes DC could become the new standard for wind energy.
“I’m open to the idea of expansion, even in the area at large, not just Berlin, the other surrounding communities,” he said. “The major emphasis will be on the new technology itself. I’m actually applying for a second patent on the technology. We’re breaking new ground.”
That would put Berlin in a unique spot once the permanent 50kw turbine is installed since Richards is using the area to test the technology and it will be the first community to host such a device.