Sandia LabNews

‘Wind weenies’ and ‘egg beaters’: Sandia’s early days in wind power

Sandia got involved in the wind industry during the 1979 oil embargo. Dixie Lee Ray, head of the Atomic Energy Commission, challenged the national laboratories to examine alternative energy sources to decrease the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. In the early days, wind energy researchers at Sandia were referred to as “wind weenies.”

The industry was young and full of long-haired engineers/inventors working on designs in their back yards and garages, says Dale Berg (6121) Berg says then-manager Randy Maydew made contacts in Canada with other researchers working on so-called Darrieus vertical axis wind turbines, which were often referred to as “egg beaters.”

Randy took a staff member with him to the Natural Resources Council. He returned intending to investigate vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs). His group mounted a small turbine on the roof of Bldg. 802 with great fanfare, but quickly realized that the dynamics of the blades meant that a less-traveled location would be safer. They then established a test bed southeast of the current Tech Area 1 off Poleline Road in the mid-1970s, and VAWTs remained there until the early 1990s.

The largest units were 17 meters in diameter. The vertical axis designs eventually gave way to the horizontal turbine designs common today, in part because forces were easier to understand, and market decisions eventually led to the end of research on vertical axis turbines.

Since then, the horizontal axis turbines have taken over and research has largely concentrated in that area. But old ideas find their way back in science; researchers are re-examining those vertical-axis designs for very large turbines, in part because gravitational loads on the blades are constant on the vertical axis machines, in contrast to the oscillating gravitation loads on the blades on the horizontal axis machines. The “egg beaters” may rise again to power our future.