The University of Massachusetts Amherst Wind Energy Center (WEC) recently made news when it was recognized by the Smithsonian Institution for its gift of the historic Wind Furnace #1 to the National Museum of American History. Built at UMass Amherst in the 1970s, the 25-kilowatt facility was at one time the largest electricity-producing wind turbine in the world. It featured the first design to include several technologies now standard in modern utility wind turbines.
The WEC, formerly the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory, is a unique program that has distinguished the University of Massachusetts as the national leader in wind energy education, academic research, and service to government and industry.
Wind energy research and development began at UMass Amherst in 1972 with the award of a National Science Foundation grant that led to the construction of Wind Furnace #1. At the time, this turbine was one of the first modern turbine designs in the world. The project that researched, designed, built, and operated Wind Furnace #1 led to the creation of the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory, the first wind energy research and education program in the United States.
In many ways, Wind Furnace #1 has heavily influenced the entire modern global wind industry. The first generation of American wind engineers was trained by working on the turbine's design and operation, and many of the turbine’s innovations appear in modern turbines. Today’s “mature” wind turbine designs feature what was once new on Wind Furnace #1: three blades, near-optimal blade shape, fiberglass blades, pitch regulation, variable speed operation, and computer control.
In other news, the WEC also recently won a $65,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Wind Energy Program for initial development of the American Academy of Wind Energy, which is planned as a multi-university curriculum coordination and exchange organization, integrating wind energy graduate programs across the U.S.
In addition, the WEC has announced a solicitation for industry membership in the WindSTAR Industry/University Cooperative Research Center. The WEC is the lead group in this four-university partnership that received an NSF planning grant to collaborate with industry partners in this new organization promoting cooperative wind energy research. (August 2010)