Nebraska Wind Turbines Take Direct Approach

Direct-drive wind turbines, a technology getting more and more attention in the industry these days, have revived an abandoned wind power site in Nebraska.

Springview, Neb., originally saw two 750-kilowatt (kW) wind turbines go up west of town in 1998. That was Nebraska’s first “wind farm” (such as it was), a demonstration project intended to verify that the turbines functioned and that power could reliably be produced at distribution voltages in Nebraska. Four years ago, having served their purpose, those turbines were removed.

direct-drive turbines, Nebraska

image via Nebraska Public Power District

The two new turbines that went up this past summer are distinct from the old ones – and from the new ones generally used these days in wind power plants around the country (including in Nebraska). Instead of using gearboxes to dramatically ratchet up the speed of the wind-driven rotor, the rotor on direct-drive turbines connects directly to a low-speed generator that uses permanent superconducting magnet technology to generate power.

direct-drive turbines, Nebraska Public Power District

image via Nebraska Public Power District

The two 1.5-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines now generating power outside Springview were manufactured by the German company Vensys, but turbine giant GE is exploring direct drive as well with a two-year, $3 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The thinking is that the direct-drive turbines obviate the need for expensive gearboxes that can be highly susceptible to wear, and could operate more efficiently.

The two direct-drive turbines in Nebraska were installed by Omaha-based Bluestem, which sells the power generated from them to the Nebraska Public Power District.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

1 Comment

  • Reply November 9, 2011


    Thanks for sharing the news. I’m glad to see that companies are pursuing experimentation in wind turbine design. This experimentation along with advances in technology will lead to more efficient turbines and thus more wind energy for everyone.

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