Research at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst began in earnest in 1972 with the award of a National Science Foundation grant that led to the construction of an innovative 25 kW wind turbine on campus, at the time the largest operating wind turbine in the United States and one of the first modern turbine designs in the world.
Innovative design features included advanced blade fabrication techniques and active pitch control. The turbine blades were fabricated or “laid up” by hand in a technique later adopted around the world: glass fiber reinforced epoxy in half molds that were later joined onto a spar.
The pitch control method was also quite innovative; prior to this time the angle (or pitch) at which a turbine blade faced the wind was fixed. Pitching the blades maximizes torque at various wind speeds, thus optimizing instantaneous power generation.
Schematic of Wind Furnace and Solar Habitat
This turbine provided heating for an innovative building integrated wind system, called the Wind Furnace 1 (WF-1). Since interconnection to the grid “by right” was not allowed in those days, the decision was made to have the turbine produce heat by means of electric elements in large water storage tanks located in the building’s basement. (The sustained high cost of conventional fuels together with heightened environmental concerns about air pollution led in 1978 to federal legislation — known as PURPA, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act — that encouraged private, non-utility investment in generating power from renewable energy sources and allowed distributed generators to connect to the grid.)
The WF-1 turbine symbolizes the beginning of the UMass Wind Energy program. It operated experimentally through the mid-1980s, providing invaluable research opportunities to many students. It has now been dismantled in preparation for shipment to the Smithsonian Institution.