Off the shores of Gothenburg, a short ferry ride away to the west lies a small island
hidden in the wilderness. Its most remarkable feature? A looming 98 feet wooden tower with an enormous metal fan fixed to its front. The fan moves lazily at 75 rotations per minute, generating an average of 45 KiloWatts of power, humming quietly as it sways and changes its angle with the breeze. A smiling professor gets out of a trailer parked nearby, handing the gathered students a safety jacket and a helmet with a cheerful greeting, “Welcome to Chalmers wind lab”.
As a student of electrical engineering, I have always been fascinated by power systems. It has played a major role in my university choices, course decisions, and all the projects that I took up. I am determined to find a way to make power generation as sustainable as possible and that hunt drove me to Chalmers.
Coming from India, I never had much access to power-generating plants with renewable sources. Used to a society largely powered by conventional methods, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered Sweden’s energy generation plans, both currently and for the future. The idea of a society, fueled by 100% renewable energy is the most remarkable thing I have ever comprehended. Thus, it made sense to me to immediately register myself for the course that promised to deliver more knowledge about that.
Cut to one month later when we, the first-ever batch of students, jumped on two electric buses to reach Lilla Varholmen, took a ferry to the island of Björkö, and hiked for twenty minutes to reach one of the best practical labs I have ever seen. The Chalmers experimental wind laboratory!
There are three very important things a student needs to do at the lab. The class starts with a rough division of students into three broad groups, one for each activity. My group was selected to study the environmental impact of setting up the turbine in the first place. Since the windmill is a giant artificial setup, there are a lot of rules and regulations that need to be followed when establishing one in an urban area. Our first task included things like measuring the noise produced by the fan, the flicker caused by the sun’s glare, and the shadows the windmill cast around it. To make things easier for us, the ground was marked with big red crosses at different places. We hiked all over the place, for about half an hour, to go to all the different locations and collected the necessary data.
After that, we were ushered inside the compact tower and treated to a look around at its unique design and different sensors. Since the tower is wooden, I could spot the glue markings all the way up to the top as it held the structure securely together against the strong sea wind. The generator is placed underneath the tower’s wooden base, cocooned in a concrete chamber as it produces electricity. Wires run all over the place, crisscrossing on the walls as they trace the flow of energy from the fan to the useful machine situated below.
The final task of the lab was to operate the turbine! My group was led into the trailer, and we were given a brief description of how everything was set up. We were shown around the mini trailer lab, as the professors call it, and they pointed out the mechanisms that they actually used from the thesis of graduated students. Then came the part I was most excited about, handing us total control over the tower!
I volunteered for the software control and my professor showed me the different options, the switches, and the regulators they kept track of to make sure everything was working the way it ideally should be. He showed me how to start the turbine, change the pitch, monitor the efficiency and the wind speed, collect all the relevant data, make sense of the thus collected data points and plot it, and finally how to turn the enormous machine off. He let me fiddle with the controls, change the pre-set values and observe every detail each minute change brought. Everything worked seamlessly together, and it was my first real glance at how wind energy is generated in real-time.
It was the singular, most unforgettable practical session I had in my life. The whole lab, the total control they handed us, the stories our professors shared of setting everything up during the pandemic, a period when the entire world's progress was essentially locked down, it was all really inspiring.
As someone who is interested in power systems, I cannot recommend this course any more fervently. The in-depth knowledge I gained, simply by experimenting on my own that day, was more than what I ever thought I knew about wind power generation. If you are similarly interested and want to know more about sustainable power engineering, this is the best programme for you. If you find yourself inspired by my account of the lab, do consider taking it! I hope you like it as much I am loving it right now.