Active Control of Wind Turbine Blades to Increase Efficiency; Energy Generation Technology and the Marginalization of Low-Income and Underserved Communities

Kassebaum, Amanda, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Momot, Michael, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia

As the demand for energy increases, it is important that more electricity is generated from clean sources of energy in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. This thesis portfolio contains the procedures and results of two separate research projects both related to the generation of electricity. The STS research paper discusses the socioeconomic and environmental effects of three different energy sources: coal, nuclear power, and lithium-ion batteries. The technical project solely focuses on wind power and ways that it can be made more efficient. Both projects contribute to research towards cleaner sources of energy. The final deliverable of the technical project is a functioning wind turbine with an active control system to increase efficiency along with a technical report. The final deliverable for the STS research project is a report that discusses and answers the following research question: How does the development of new energy technologies negatively impact the environment and marginalize low-income and underserved communities?

The main goal of the technical project is to increase the efficiency of wind turbine blades at varying wind speeds using an active control system. In order to achieve this goal, a mechanism was designed to extend and retract a flap from the trailing edge of the turbine blade to change the shape of the blade to increase the coefficient of performance and increase the overall wind turbine efficiency at different wind speeds. Using Solidworks, wind turbine blades were modeled after the shape of the GE 2.75MW-120m turbine attached to a hub with an angle of attack of 15°. These parts were 3D printed and assembled with a stepper motor located inside the hub. An Arduino UNO Rev3 with a motor shield was programmed to make the stepper motor spin to wind up a string that was attached to a flap which would then be contracted into the housing of the blades. The effectiveness of the design was tested using wind tunnel testing and a digital multimeter (DMM) hooked up to a generator which the wind turbine spun when in operation. The results of this project are important to developing active control systems to increase the efficiency and reliability of wind turbines. The technical report also considers some of the social effects of wind turbines such as noise pollution and global, social, cultural, or environmental (GSCE) factors.

With the threat of climate change looming over society, it is paramount that scientists in the energy industry develop new methods to generate electricity that reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions while decreasing reliance on non-renewable resources such as coal which creates a lot of pollution when burned. Energy sources including nuclear power and lithium-ion batteries generate electricity with little or no greenhouse gas emissions. However, both of these energy generation methods have their own negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts. The research question is discussed using the STS theory of the social construction of technology (SCOT) through the lens of environmental ethics. The results of this analysis should illuminate two key issues including the environmental damage caused by various energy generation technologies along with the lack of power that individuals in low-income and underserved communities have in the political decision-making process revolving around the location of power plants and waste disposal sites. The analysis in this research paper is important to reveal the inequality resulting from the energy industry in the United States.

Overall, this thesis portfolio emphasizes the importance of shifting towards cleaner energy sources to mitigate the consequences of climate change. The STS portion of the project answers the research question and focuses on the study of the environmental effects of various energy sources while simultaneously discussing the social effects. While the main purpose of the technical project is to increase the overall efficiency of wind turbines, it briefly addresses some of the social impacts that are associated with wind power. Some of these social impacts may be addressed by the final product while other impacts that are outside the scope of the project are still acknowledged. Performing both projects simultaneously has provided valuable insight into the importance of social and environmental justice and the need for equitable change in the energy industry.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Sustainability, Climate Change, Renewable Energy, Social Construction of Technology, Environmental Ethics

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Michael Momot
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook
Technical Team Members: Jason Badu, Charles Breen, Astrid Henkle, Scott Morrow, and Isaiah Woo

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