New world record a tall order

How tall things are is a big deal to toddlers.

My daughters ask almost every day if we can put a new marker on our door-jam height ruler. When we play blocks, the towers ...

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New world record a tall order

Cute toddler builds tall tower of blocks

In addition to some pretty great bragging rights (our tower is taller than yours!), the tall towers have energy benefits. The wind is generally stronger and more consistent higher in the sky. That means a tall tower can produce more energy than its shorter counterparts.

Key Points

  • Germany built the world’s tallest wind turbine.
  • The tall towers take advantage of stronger, more-consistent wind higher in the sky.
  • The towers also have water reservoirs to store electricity. 

How tall things are is a big deal to toddlers.

My daughters ask almost every day if we can put a new marker on our door-jam height ruler. When we play blocks, the towers are built to be beautiful, and, of course, tallest in the whole kingdom. And I’m frequently asked if someday “I’ll be taller than you.”

It seems even engineering professionals are in on the height intrigue.

A team in Germany recently built the world’s largest wind turbines. I’m sure my little ones would approve of its impressive 809-foot height from base to tip of the blade.

In addition to some pretty great bragging rights (our tower is taller than yours!), the tall towers have energy benefits. The wind is generally stronger and more consistent higher in the sky. That means a tall tower can produce more energy than its shorter counterparts.

The new towers are more than tall and beautiful. They’re smart too.

They’re part of a pilot project that aims to solve wind’s reliability challenge.

Since we need energy even when the wind isn’t blowing, wind farms usually require some sort of back-up power. And building extra power plants just to kick in when the wind dies down makes wind less affordable.

The technology in these towers could help solve that.

They have water tanks built into them. When the turbines are making more power than people need, some of that energy is used to pump water from a reservoir up into the tanks. Then, when the wind isn’t blowing, or there’s a larger than normal demand for energy, the water can be released back down into the reservoir. As the water pours downhill, it goes through its own turbine that spins and makes electricity.

Whether building with blocks in your living room — or state-of-the art wind turbines in Germany — it seems taller really is better.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Wind energy: When ‘more is better’ doesn’t apply

My daughters and I like to take things up a notch in the kitchen. Our chocolate chip cookies have an extra scoop of chips. Our banana bread weighs more than my 2-year-old from all ...

Tagged: wind energy, wind turbines, baking

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Wind energy: When ‘more is better’ doesn’t apply

Toddler tips baking bowl up over her face and head

After winds get opening-scene-from-Mary Poppins strong, the turbines eventually shut down to keep the blades from spiraling out of control and causing damage.

Key Points

  • June marks the beginning of hurricane season.
  • All that extra wind isn’t necessarily a good thing for wind energy.
  • Wind turbines turn off during extremely high winds to avoid damage. 

My daughters and I like to take things up a notch in the kitchen. Our chocolate chip cookies have an extra scoop of chips. Our banana bread weighs more than my 2-year-old from all the bonus banana mush we include. And at Christmas, Santa gets to choose from a buffet of cookies decorated with enough sprinkles and frosting to put him in a sugar coma.

But this “more is better” approach doesn’t work for everything in life. 

Exhibit A: Wind.

Hurricane season started this month, marking six months of severe storms and high winds. All those extremely blustery days must be great for wind turbines, right?

Well, not always.

 Turbines have a sweet spot to make energy. The wind speed needs to be at least 6-9 miles per hour to get the blades turning. As the wind speed increases, the blades turn more quickly, producing more energy. But once the wind reaches what’s known as a rated speed, the amount of energy produced flat lines even as wind speeds go up.

After winds get opening-scene-from-Mary Poppins strong, the turbines eventually shut down to keep the blades from spiraling out of control and causing damage.

That point of “whoa, this is more wind than I can handle” varies by turbine. It’s kind of like those extra chocolate chips; an extra scoop gives you amazing cookies. Two scoops gives you cookie dough that won’t stick together because it’s basically a bowl of chocolate. #experience.

Turbines have anemometers that measure wind speed (and yes, you should definitely work that word into a casual conversation today). Once the anemometer detects that winds have died down enough, then they’ll get the turbine back to work again.

Want to learn more? Check out this animation from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy about how wind turbines work.

And here’s the banana bread recipe Annie was working on in this picture. We recommend adding an extra banana. Or two. But not three.

It’s all about that sweet spot.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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New drone technology might make wind turbine maintenance cheaper and safer

Last week, we talked about how drones are helping solar plants be more efficient and drive down the cost of solar energy in some areas of the country.

But solar isn’t ...

Tagged: drones, wind turbines, energy technology

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New drone technology might make wind turbine maintenance cheaper and safer

Drone flies in front of wind turbines

The process to inspect a whole wind farm can take months. SkySpec’s self-piloting drones can do it in 20 minutes.

Key Points

  • A start-up company is using drones to help make wind turbine maintenance cheaper and safer.
  • Drones with advanced damage identification systems can inspect turbines in minutes.
  • The process used to take months. 

Last week, we talked about how drones are helping solar plants be more efficient and drive down the cost of solar energy in some areas of the country.

But solar isn’t the only kid on the energy block using drones.

Wind companies are using the little guys too.

 A small business with just 12 employees might change the way wind companies inspect turbines for damage.

The traditional method to see if turbines need any maintenance can be time consuming and sometimes dangerous. Someone has to climb to the top, visually inspect the turbine and blades and take pictures of any damage with a cell phone.

The process to inspect a whole wind farm can take months.

SkySpec’s self-piloting drones can do it in 20 minutes. Drones are deployed to inspect the turbine, top to bottom.

According to the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the drones use an advanced damage identification system that can detect wind turbine cracks and collect valuable data.

SkySpecs received a Small Business Voucher Award through the Department of Energy. Through the award, the company is working with Sandia National Lab to validate the damage detection algorithms it uses. They should be done by fall of this year, and hope to go to market with the product.

Automating processes like this can help reduce the maintenance costs for wind companies, and that could make wind energy cheaper.

Go, drones, go! 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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See what it’s like to climb wind towers for a living

Maintaining our energy systems takes a special kind of person. Someone who is smart, hard-working and willing to use power tools while hanging hundreds of feet into the air.

Someone ...

Tagged: wind energy, wind turbines, energy grid

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See what it’s like to climb wind towers for a living

Wind technicians hang from a wind turbine blade while making repairs

Maintaining our grid is part of what makes up the cost of energy, so it’s interesting to see those energy dollars at work.

Key Points

  • Maintaining our energy systems is part of what makes up the cost of energy.
  • When part of the grid breaks down, it needs to be fixed quickly.
  • Check out this wind technician working on a wind blade, hundreds of feet in the air.

Maintaining our energy systems takes a special kind of person. Someone who is smart, hard-working and willing to use power tools while hanging hundreds of feet into the air.

Someone like rock-climber-turned-wind-technician Jessica Kilroy.

When giant wind turbines break down, they need to be fixed fast. That’s where Jessica comes in, as featured on the Weather Channel’s Great Big Story series.

Maintaining our grid is part of what makes up the cost of energy, so it’s interesting to see those energy dollars at work.

There are a lot of behind-the-scenes things that go into keeping our energy available when we need it. Here is a great infographic that explains how the grid transports energy hundreds of miles from the source to your home or office.

It’s not as cool as the video of a daredevil wind technician, but it does make you stop to think about the system that we depend on.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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