Wind power in Alaska: An ongoing research

Ivan Kvapil/Sun Star Reporter
Oct. 1, 2013

On Sept. 25 in the Schaible Auditorium, Atmospheric Sciences professor Gerhard Kramm talked about wind power in Alaska.

“Wind power is not a viable option in Fairbanks,” Kramm said during the opening slides of his lecture.

Kramm explained that the winds in Fairbanks just aren’t fast enough to meet what is called the cut-in speed. The cut-in speed is  the speed required for the wind to spin a wind turbine. The turbines need to spin three meters per second in order to produce electricity.  Fairbanks only sees wind speeds that fast during the month of June.

The lecture focused mainly on the research  conducted in Eva Creek, Delta and Poker Flats regarding the possibility of using wind turbines to help power the towns surrounding the wind farms. These places are some of the few places in Interior Alaska that experience the necessary wind speeds for the turbines to be an effective energy source.

Kramm talked extensively about the research required and how it was important to make sure that he and his research team figure out which turbines would work the best for Eva Creek, Delta and Poker Flats, since the investment into Eva Creek would be approximately $90 million. Researchers still need to analyze the effects of icing on the turbine blades because it could cause the turbine blades to spin off center and destroy the turbine. There is also the risk of ice being flung off the blades and flying hundreds of feet, killing or harming people.

Kramm also pointed out that a conventional power plant would still need to be kept in these areas to provide power when the wind isn’t blowing fast enough or in case they have to stop the turbines due to icing or if the turbines are spinning to fast.

Another option is to use offshore wind farms. Researchers have used this method on some of the Aleutian Islands. However, the wind turbines killed too many of the birds that flew through the wind farm.

Kramm continued to explain that even with wind power, the environmental effects of building wind turbines needs to go into consideration. A single wind turbine produces relatively little electricity, so a large area is required to set up the number required to power a city or town.

Kramm believes that because of this, wind turbines are a good choice for alternative energy on a local level. For wind turbines to replace a power plant, such as the Atkinson Heating and Power Plant, it would require a space the same size as the city of Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany, Kramm said.

Sophomore Biology student Sydney Kelderman said that although she expected less math to be involved in the lecture, she still enjoyed it and felt that Kramm was right. When considering installing a wind farm, “scope and scale matters, what it’s replacing has to be just as efficient as what it is replacing.” Kelderman said.

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