Feature article: Tapping energy from the wind

windpowerBy: Azfar A. Khan (Mr.)

Due to astronomical rises in oil prices in the international market, the cost of production of electricity is also rising day by day. Hence, it’s imperative to adopt some other methods for the production of electricity. This article dwells on the generation of electricity through wind and focuses on manufacturing of wind turbines, the machines used for the generation of electricity.

Generation of electricity through wind is not something new. India, the fourth in line of countries in the world for the generation of electricity, is producing more than 8000 MW of electricity by utilising wind turbines. One would be surprised to know that in the region of Nevarra, Spain, 70 per cent of the region’s energy needs are being fulfilled by wind and solar energy. This region is both windy and sunny. With no deposits of coal, oil or gas of its own, this region deliberately opted for renewable energy in the late 1980s. With some 1,100 windmills installed all over Nevarra, this region can boast of generating more electricity from renewable sources than entire big EU countries like France or Poland. It’s a classic example of using renewable energy in any country.

The question that automatically comes to one’s mind is: “If it can be done in Spain, why can’t it be done in any other country?” The answer is a big “It can”!

A layman might ask what exactly a wind turbine is. Simply put, a wind turbine is a machine that is used for the generation of electricity from wind. It’s installed on a tower at a windy location to capture wind so as to generate electricity. The faster the wind blows, the more electricity would be produced. Once a wind turbine is installed, it would generate electricity for 25-30 years free of cost as no other fuel is used in its generation except wind.

A typical wind turbine is a bit like an old-fashioned windmill, with rotor blades that face into the wind. When the blades of the rotor are spinning, they drive a shaft that is connected to an electrical generator through a gearbox. The higher the turbine is installed, the more electricity it would produce. Most wind turbines produce electricity when the wind is blowing at 10-30 mph. If the wind is slow and turbulent near the ground, that would not be suitable for energy generation. The turbine operates for 363 out of 365 days a year and stopped only for two days during the year for carrying out its scheduled maintenance.

During my lectures on the wind turbines, a question is generally asked: “If a country goes for the wind energy option, it would be needing hundreds of such turbines in order to make up for the shortfall of electricity, which means that these turbines would have to be manufactured in the country that opts to go for their installation in a big way as one cannot rely on the manufacturers from other countries due to the long lead time involved and also for the expected delay in the procurement of spares.”

My reply to this question is that any country can venture into the manufacture of wind turbines as it would be cost-effective to manufacture them in country as compared to their import. India is a living example in this respect.

But, manufacturing cannot be done in isolation. It has to be undertaken in collaboration with a world-renowned company that’s backed by a long experience and innovation in the field. This way it will be possible to ensure the efficiency and reliability in the indigenously produced turbines. There’s no dearth of such companies in the world. These companies have produced thousands of turbines to date with proven reliability. One such company is Vestas that has 26,000 wind turbines to its credit. As far as my knowledge goes, it’s the world’s largest supplier of the complete wind power systems. Once, the host country has signed an agreement with such a company, the local owners can deploy their own manpower alongside the company’s for getting training as the projects progress. This way, the local manpower would be trained on the job and complete transfer of technology would take place. The assembly and final testing of the locally produced parts of the turbine would however be undertaken at a central location.

A wind turbine comprises one, two or three blades and a hub (the item to which the blades are firmly connected), a gearbox, an electrical generator, a controller, cables, and a steel tower. The savings would surge as we succeed in manufacturing as many parts of the turbine locally as possible, under an organised and well thought out programme.

The manufacturing strategy would be that, instead of setting up dedicated manufacturing facilities for each and every part of the turbine at one location, the existing facilities of the country should be tapped and utilised to their optimum level to manufacture these parts. If required, these facilities could be modified and upgraded. The only requirement is excellent technical and logistical management. By following this strategy, the cost of manufacturing would come down drastically and the fears of investing a fortune in setting up such projects would be dispelled!

The following actions would be required for establishing the wind turbines manufacturing facilities in any country:-

• Collaboration with a reputable wind turbine manufacturing company.
• An intensive survey of the country’s existing manufacturing facilities to identify the prospective manufacturers / vendors who could be entrusted with the job of manufacturing the major parts / components of the turbine.
• Short listing of such vendors and accreditation of their facilities.
• Hiring of skilled manpower.
• Establishing infrastructure for the assembly and testing of the turbines.
• Establishing a central facility for the assembly and testing of manufactured parts of the turbine.
• Certification of the central facility in accordance with the requirements of ISO 9001: 2000 (the International Quality Management System).

By undertaking manufacture of wind turbines in country, following benefits would accrue:-

• The locally manufactured turbines would be extremely cost-effective;
• The country would not be dependent on other manufacturers for the supply of spares.
• The country would save precious foreign exchange.
• It would rather earn foreign exchange by exporting the indigenously manufactured turbines to other countries.
• It will have salutary effect on the environment. Our planet is being impacted by global warming with every passing day. It would be a good idea if we move towards renewable energy alternatives for mitigating environmental degradation.

These days, it’s an opportunity for any businessman to invest in this emerging and lucrative field. The manufacturing facilities could be established in the businessman’s own country or in some other country where the manpower is cheap and numerous other business incentives are available. Of late, it has been observed that reputable companies from the European countries and the USA have established their manufacturing facilities for various items including cars in China. The same is true of other countries as well, especially in Asia. Why? Because, the manpower in these countries is available at extremely cheap rates besides being highly skilled. Yes, I’m using the words “highly skilled” with conviction based on my more than 31 years’ experience in the technical field in one of such countries. If somebody has got any doubt in the veracity of this statement, he should go and visit India to clear his doubts. India is manufacturing world class wind turbines and exporting them too, through two of its export outlets, one in China and the other in Minnesota where Indian-owned companies have been established! Besides manufacturing wind turbines, India is also engaged in the manufacture of one of the top class mobile sets of the world, Nokia. It is India’s own manpower that has been deployed for manufacturing these items as it cannot afford hiring the same from outside!

Regarding the quality of manpower, I’m reminded of a small incident that I’d like to share with my readers. This incident happened during one of the projects of which I was the overall in-charge in my country. We wanted to manufacture a certain item in one of our factories for which we had to collaborate with a French company dealing in that item. The French team visited our country and handed over the software and material for eighteen parts of that item for manufacturing in one of our factories. The team visited the factory again after a month to evaluate the expertise of the technicians deployed to accomplish that job. The French team leader, when he inspected those 18 items manufactured by our technicians, was highly impressed with their expertise. He asked his counterpart as to what he would charge for the expertise of his technicians if it was decided to manufacture the item in his country. Our team leader just said off-the-cuff that he would charge $10 per hour per technician. On hearing this, the French team leader jumped and declared that, leaving everything else aside, he would be saving $ 35 per hour per technician straightaway as a technician of such calibre was charging a minimum of $ 45 per hour in France! In my country, if a technician is paid US $ 10 per hour, he would be the happiest man on earth! Technicians of such calibre are easily available for deployment on the manufacturing of wind turbines; the main advantage being that the moment you hire them, they’re productive.

Generally, people are interested to know the cost of a wind turbine so that they should be able to decide in utilizing these turbines for providing power to their households, businesses or factories. For their information, a typical home in the USA, utilizes around 9300 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year that comes to about 775 kWh per month. If we select a wind turbine in the range of 5 to 15 kilowatts, it would suffice to meet this requirement. The cost of a 10 kW wind turbine suitable to power a home would be around $ 30,000. In windy areas, it will generate energy 10,000 to 18,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. You may use electricity so generated to meet the requirements of your household and the rest you can sell to the state through electric grid. This turbine would require a property of one acre or more to install. An approximately 100-foot tower is supplied along with the turbine. If we go for a small turbine, its cost would be anywhere from $ 6,000 onwards (installed), depending upon the size selected. A 1.8MW wind turbine produces enough electricity for 1,000 households every year. By using a wind turbine, we can lower our electricity bills to as low as $ 10 per month!

The time to invest is now as it’s a promising field and every country needs electricity. If we plan carefully and apply all the modern tools of management in manufacturing, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t get maximum output. (Note: For any clarification/questions, kindly contact the author at E-mail: azfar44@hotmail.com).

Azfar A Khan (Mr.),
E-mail: azfar44@hotmail.com
Tel: 0092-51-4470026
Mobile: 0092-300-5122864
Words: 1825

About the author

Mr. Azfar A Khan has put in 31 years in technical management field. He has been involved with various projects in collaboration with international reputable firms like SAGEM of France, FIAR of Italy and CEIEC of China. He is a consultant and quality auditor. He has provided consultancy for Quality Management System to various organizations and conducted their gap analyses as well. He has also conducted various courses on wind energy, ISO 9001: 2000, internal auditing and other standards. For more information, kindly contact Mr. Azfar A Khan at: azfar44@hotmail.com

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