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28/10/2017 WIND-WORKS: Betz: Everything You Need to Know about Wind Turbines Was Written in 1927

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WIND ENERGY FOR THE


REST OF US (2016)
Book by Paul Gipe
WIND BASICS (2009) July 21, 2017
Betz: Everything You Need to Know about Wind Turbines Was Paul Gipe
WIND POWER (2004) Written in 1927
WIND IN VIEW (2002) Yes, Ive written about this subject once before, Everything
You Need to Know about Wind Energy Was Written in 1957!, but I
WIND ENERGY (1995) am moving the date back thirty years in the light of more
research. The more I learn about wind energy, the more I
OTHER LANGUAGES
realize how little I know.
BOOK REVIEWS This realization began when someone--who wishes to remain
anonymous--threw Albert Betzs treatise on wind turbines
over my electronic transom in 2016. The well worn first page
was adorned with official looking stamps and initials of various people approving the circulation of
the document that was ominously addressed to the Dept. of National Defence. If youre a student
of the English language the spelling should tip you off that it wasnt a Yankee who sent the
document to me.
It wasnt a secret. I was able to find publicly available versions after a little online digging. For
whatever reason, the document came to me shrouded in mystery.
But it was significant. After only a glance I realized that this was the foundational document of
modern wind energy. Technical Memorandum 474 by the National Advisory Committee for
Aeronautics--better known as NACA--was titled simply Windmills in the Light of Modern
Research by one A. Betz. It was an English translation of a paper written by Betz, a naval
engineer working in the aeronautical laboratory at the University of Gttingen.

The translation was dated August 1928. The source document, Windmhlen in Lichte neuerer
Forschung, was published in Vol XV, No. 46 of Die Naturwissenschaften in November 1927.
Anyone working in wind energy knows A. Betz--or should. It was this and his previous treatises
on the subject where he concluded that the maximum energy a conventional wind turbine could
capture was 16/27 or 59.3% of the energy in the wind. He is the Betz of the Betz Limit.
Its just as well that I came across the English translation. The original German document is still
behind a $40 paywall at Springer Verlag after nearly 90 years!

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28/10/2017 WIND-WORKS: Betz: Everything You Need to Know about Wind Turbines Was Written in 1927
In my previous article I wrote that everything you need to know about wind energy was written in
1957 based on the work of French wind energy pioneer Louis Vadot. In the research for my new
book, Wind Energy for the Rest of Us, I concluded that our technical understanding of wind energy
and wind turbines was well known by the mid-1920s in part based on the work of Betz and Ludwig
Prandtl, his boss at Gttingen. However, I hedged my bets, noting that wind technology was
certainly well known by the mid-1950s.
After reading passages in Betzs legendary discourse it is clear now that we knew what we needed
to know about wind turbines and wind energy by 1927 in German and by 1928 in the English-
speaking world. Below are some topics from his paper that throw light on why modern wind
turbines look the way they do and why they are designed the way the are.

Efficiency Claims of Promoters


With windmills we have at hand such immense quantities of energy in the great ocean of air,
that we cannot possibly use it all. It is therefore relatively unimportant as to how much energy is
lost in the process of transformation, the cost being the only important thing.
Thus, claims of exceptionally high conversion efficiencies of one design over another are
important only when all else is the same, including the cost of the turbine and its reliability. For
example, claims of greater efficiency of new ducted turbines are noteworthy if the capital costs
and reliability are the same or better than those of the conventional wind turbines with which
they compete.
As Ive been saying for decades now, it means nothing if you have the most efficient wind turbine
ever built if the turbine doesnt operate reliably. Wind turbines are, after all, power plants. They
must operate day-in, day-out, year around. We sell kilowatt-hours and its that hour in kilowatt-
hours that is just as critical as kilowatts of power.
In other words, a wind turbine that stands idle in the wind is useless no matter how big its
generator is in kW or how efficient it might be if it were operating.

Cost of Generation Metric $/kWh


Betz goes on describe the fundamental metric on which to judge one wind turbine against
another.
As he says, The most economical windmill is the one which furnishes the kilowatt-hour at the
lowest cost. Since, in the production of energy with a windmill, the principal part of the cost is the
interest and amortization of the original investment, the problem is chiefly to obtain the
maximum output with the minimal investment, i.e., to make the ratio of the investment to the
annual output as small as possible.
Note that Betz doesnt say the ratio of investment ($) to the wind turbines power rating (kW) or
$/kW. This is a subtlety thats easily missed and often is. The modern wind industry has been
plagued for decades with otherwise competent engineers confusing investment relative to
installed capacity with what really matters in the end: $/kWh of annual generation or in the
English translation of Betz, the annual output.
Our wind turbines generate electricity in kWh. That is what we sell. We dont sell capacity in kW.
Of course charlatans have infamously taken advantage of this confusion. Ive written about these
hustlers many times in the past and again in my new book Wind Energy for the Rest of Us. These
mountebanks trap the unwary with grand claims that their wind turbines offer the lowest cost in
$/kW of any other wind turbine.
As Ive noted many times before, you can have a very inexpensive wind turbine in terms of $/kW
of installed capacity but generate very expensive electricity if the wind turbine doesnt operate
reliably--for whatever reason.
Betz explained this succinctly in 1927!

Deceitful to Claim It Works in Low Winds


Another bugbear of modern wind energy is inventors incessant claims that their wondrous new
devices work in low winds. Over the years my response has grown ever more truculent to Who
cares?
Heres Betzs take, During a large part of the time the wind is too weak to turn the windmill and,
even if the windmill runs easily enough, its output is so small that it is of no particular use.
The key phrase here is of no particular use. That is, why bother? Theres so little energy in low
wind speeds theres no practical point in trying to use it.
But Betz goes on, At other times the wind is so strong as to make it difficult to protect the
windmill from injury. It is hardly possible to so construct a windmill that it can utilize both very
weak and very strong winds.
In other words, theres an engineering tradeoff here and since theres more energy in the wind at
higher speeds, we willingly sacrifice what little is available as Betz says, in very weak winds for
the greater generation from stronger winds.

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28/10/2017 WIND-WORKS: Betz: Everything You Need to Know about Wind Turbines Was Written in 1927
So if you see a claim that an Internet wonder operates at wind speeds of say 2 mph youll know
that theyve never read Betz and, worse, probably have never heard of him.
Anyone can design a wind turbine to spin in low winds, but Who cares?

Drag Devices & Efficiency


Betz begins his famous mathematical derivation with the simplest of wind turbines: a drag device
using a simple flat plate. He summarizes his results thus.
Two-thirds of the power developed by the wind is converted to vortices (and finally, into heat)
and only 1/3 is saved. If, as was explained at the beginning, this low efficiency is not decisive as
regards the suitability of the arrangement, it must nevertheless give cause for apprehension.
Thus, the rotor of a drag device can only capture 33% of the energy in the wind, according to
Betz. Even so, he suggests this might be acceptable if you could do it cheaply enough, reflecting
his earlier statement on the role of efficiency in determining cost-effective wind generation.

Lift Devices
However, with his warning that the efficiency of a drag device might be too low, Betz sets up his
second example that of a wind turbine where the blade moves transverse or perpendicular to the
wind, that is, a conventional wind turbine spinning about an horizontal axis. He then introduces a
number of concepts that ultimately lead to his calculation of the maximum efficiency of an
unducted rotor.
Keep in mind that Betz was writing at a time when there were great advances in the science of
what we now call aerodynamics, following the Great War. Importantly, he describes the lift and
drag forces acting on a blade as it moves across the wind and how these change relative to the
speed of the blade through the air. The latter, the ratio of the speed of the blade through the air
relative to the speed of the wind across the ground, is known as the tip-speed ratio.
Betz explains that the power available from a rotor blade with a tip-speed ratio of, say, three, is
six times greater than a flat plate of a drag device moving with the speed of the wind, that is,
with a tip-speed ratio of unity. He then notes, This great difference would justify the
unconditional choice of the second arrangement, namely, the utilization of the wing lift instead of
the drag, even though the construction of the wing should be somewhat more expensive than
that of a simple resisting body.
This is the reason wind turbines use wings or airfoils rather than flat plates, cups, buckets, or
similar wind catchers. Wind turbine blades literally fly through the air. Thats how they work and
why they are so much more efficient than drag devices.

Solidity
Betz then examines the design of the windmill or rotor itself. He explains as a rotor blade moves
through the air it affects the air around it. This then has an effect on any blades following it
through the air. This is true, he says in a footnote, even if the rotor only has one blade. Even in
the 1920s, engineers, such as Betz, knew that you only needed one blade to make a wind turbine
function.
The air must move over the blade then get out of the way of the air following it, Betz explains. If
there are many blades close together there is resistance to the air moving through the rotor disc.
He says, The more the air is retarded the less air flows through the windmill. A portion of the air
flows around the obstruction without giving up its energy.
In short, this explains why modern wind turbines use two or three slender blades rather than
filling the rotor disc with many thick blades. This isnt intuitive. Consequently, many untutored
inventors try to cram the rotor disc with as many blades as physically possible as this seems to
make sense intuitively.
Betz calls the solidity of the rotor, that is, how much area of the rotor disc is covered by the
blades, the vane density. Modern, high-speed wind turbines have low solidityor Betzs vane
densityrelative to a high-solidity, slow-speed wind turbine such as a farm windmill used for
pumping water.
According to Betz, Vane density is inversely proportional to the vane velocity. The choice, within
certain limits, of the lift coefficient renders it possible to adapt the vane width to the desired
structural conditions. With a constant lift coefficient, the vane width, for example, would have to
be greater toward the hub.
As Betz says, The faster a windmill is designed to rotate, the smaller must be its vane density.
As the tip of the blade moves faster through the air than that portion of the blade near the hub, it
must be more slender so the rotor has less vane density or solidity at the tip than near the hub.
This explains why todays wind turbine blades taper from the hub to the tip.
Thus, says Betz, its best to design a wind turbine with a high rotational speed for two reasons.
In the first place, a smaller vane area is required and the windmill is correspondingly simpler.
The second reason is that a high-speed turbine requires a smaller gearbox to step up the shaft
speed to that required by a generator relative to that of a low-speed turbine.

Betz on Testing
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28/10/2017 WIND-WORKS: Betz: Everything You Need to Know about Wind Turbines Was Written in 1927
Remarkably, Betz is prescient about the need for standardized testing of wind turbines. He could
have been writing about the introduction of new wind turbines in 2017 and not 1927.
He notes that, Since the manufacturers have an interest in making their windmills appear as
efficient as possible, they naturally use the best of the various test results in their advertising,
and it thus happens that much too high performances are announced in very many catalogs.Of
course in Betzs day they used catalogs to search for products and not Google. His lament,
unfortunately, could be applied to the dozens of Internet miracles that are circulated endlessly on
social media as various wind panaceas not like those other windmillsthe ones that work.
Betz then singles out for mention one of the worlds first wind turbine test sites, where Relatively
good results have recently been obtained in the Agricultural Institute of Oxford University. His
citation notes that Oxford published the results of their testing in 1926.
More than 80-years after Betzs paper--and after Oxford published the results from their test
field--the American Wind Energy Association instituted standardized testing of small wind
turbines. The trade group debated whether they should do so for nearly three decades.

Conclusion
While Betzs paper is most widely known for his conclusion that the best a conventional wind
turbine can hope to do is capture 16/27 of the energy in the wind, his discourse is chocked full of
the elemental design characteristics of modern wind turbines.
So much time, money, and talent have been squandered over the decades through ignorance of
this early work in wind energy.
We in the wind industry ignore Betzs wisdom from 1927 at our peril.

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