Clean Energy in California

In the field with wind and geothermal
by -- March 8th, 2010

Things we learned: sheep love wind turbines, you can sleep in the gearbox, and the earth is hot

Today we visited two great renewable sites – a wind farm and a geothermal site. To say it was amazing is an understatement…not only cool to see the infrastructure behind all of the concepts we study, but to also meet the passionate and knowledgeable people that make it all happen.

The day began at the High Winds NextEra wind farm north of San Francisco. We arrived to lush green wheat fields covered in cattle and sheep, a briskly blowing wind, and a beautiful blue sky. The air was crisp and you could hear the sound of the wind blades – like a big WHOOSH as they turned through the air.

We learned a lot about wind from the engineers at NextEra. Apparently the sheep who graze in the pastures really enjoy the shade thrown by the turbines and will stand in a straight line just to be cool. Pretty funny looking. We also got the chance to go inside a turbine and learned that it’s 1) bigger than it seems and 2) over 200 rungs to get to the top. Talk about your work out for the day.

Andrew Dietrich, shown above, might have been the most excited to be there.

After departing the wind farm, we grabbed a quick bite from Whole Foods (where they thought we were the cast of Top Chef due to our industrial white vans. sorry, but no. we’re just students) and headed over the Northern California Geothermal Site.

….and a 2 hour car ride later up the mountains (queasy much?)….we arrived!

The guys at the geothermal plant were very animated and interested in their work and the geological history of the site itself. They taught us how they collect hot steam from under the ground, channel it to run turbines to generate electricity, and then recondense the water (see the picture below for the cooling towers).

The coolest thing was that they’re effectively using 3 different types of renewable energy technologies at 1 plant: geothermal, hydropower, and solar! Geothermal is their main source of power, but they recently installed a small 280 kW hydroturbine to capture the kinetic energy of the water they pump back into the ground to create more steam. And to top it all off, they are using a 2 MW solar array at the bottom of the mountain to pump wastewater from the neighboring districts to transport to the geothermal site for injection. Amazing! Just shows you the power of creativity.

Check out the video below to see the size of a turbine blade, what a geothermal control room looks like, a picture of a steam turbine – and above all, pics of our great group!

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