On a recent late-October morning, EWEA staff set off early from our offices in Brussels to visit a wind farm. For many of us, it would the first time to get so close to the energy-producing giants that we spend our time promoting. The sun rose and we were confronted with a thick blanket of fog, which did not lift during the two hour drive to the Europarc, near Aachen in Germany. Not the best weather for viewing wind turbines. But we persevered.
Descending from the bus at the Europarc in Vetschau, we suddenly found ourselves at the base of a gigantic turbine, a 1.5 MW Enercon machine with a 66 metre rotor diameter. The blades were spinning silently in the breeze, shrouded by fog. This was an unusual turbine, specially designed for visiting, with a viewing platform on top and a safety ladder on the outside, allowing space for groups to climb the 65 metres to the top on a staircase inside. Within the turbine there were several floor levels off the stairs, for catching your breath on the 300 steps and listening to explanations on the construction of the turbine by our knowledgeable guide, Pieter De Greef from Windvision. The turbine is the same weight as 30 African elephants!
Once we had a warming coffee and collected our safety kits, including oxygen masks, we made our way to the top of the turbine. Pictures of all the happy looking people who have ever visited adorn the inside of the turbine – thousands have done so. Once we got to the viewing platform the fog was thick, but we made out the blades spinning through the greyness and felt the force of the wind at this height. On ascending the narrow ladder into the nacelle, where the engines are, we gained a true understanding of how the turbine produces energy – and the difficulty for the engineers working in such confined spaces. Not only do the blades spin the rotor, but the entire nacelle turns to face the direction of the wind.
Inside the nacelle was a display, showing live information on the performance of the turbine, such as energy being produced and wind speed. When we visited, the display showed that 3,682,4099 Kw hours of energy had been produced by that turbine alone. Calculations were quickly made, and we worked out that if the average house uses 4500kw hours per year, this turbine had produced 10 million times that in its lifetime.
This is part of a nine turbine wind farm in Vetschau. The first turbine was constructed in 1997, the other eight between 1999 and 2002. To visit the turbine yourself, contact Windvision here (in German).