|May 15: Mother of all turbines
The world's first megawatt wind turbine was built from 1975 onwards by Danish hippie teachers, helped by hundreds of volunteers, as a protest against plans for nuclear power. The Tvind turbine still produces. And the idea of self-reliance is as alive as ever.
The proud red and white striped turbine towering the trees is visible for miles around. The massive house on the cement pillar rises 54 meters above ground level, which itself is a large earthen mould which stabilises the tower. There is something strange when you look a bit longer: the blades are on the lee side of the turbine, which stands with it's back to the wind so to say.
The colors are well chosen. It's bright, joyfull and playfull. And besides being the Danish national colour a bouy with those stipes is the last one you see leaving the harbour, meaning: free water from here on.
There is a gusty wind, the day we visit Tvind. For Allan Jensen who has been taking care of the turbine for years, it's a busy day as well. Every time the wind speed gets too high, a security system sets in and turns the blades into the wind, thus stopping the turbine. The machine has then to be reset by hand, time after time. But the small kind Dane is not the complaining type.
Jensen takes us up the tower in a cage elevator that rises 45 meters. After that it's climbing over tight and oily metal stairs through a cramped pillar up into the machine room. Right before your eyes there's a shaft with 80 centimeters diameter slowly turning. Once round in three seconds. On the axis, originally used for the propellor of an oil tanker and recovered from a ships' graveyard in Rotterdam, there are cilinders and valves for correcting the angle of the blades on the outside. Further on, there's a gear box (20 to 1) and a 1 megawatt generator. The largest by far when it was built. So large that the local grid could only deal with half of its power until recently.
Britta Jensen, who does the public affairs for Tvind, still remembers the day of 29 May in 1975 when the permit to build came through. She's in the photograph in the middle of dozens of youngsters with spades, ready to dig the hole for the fundament. Britta looks a bit lost in the photo, carrying just a spoon. “It was the thought that counted”, she now explains.
Allan Jensen and Britta Jensen
The Tvind turbine is a unique prototype. Not only because of it's grassroots origin. But also because many things, if not all, had to be invented. Partly by the teachers and friends themselves, partly by scientists helping them with the aerodynamics of the blades. The design was on the safe side, which might help to explain why the turbine is still happily churning away after it's sixth lustrum. Granted, some revisions have been performed in the mean time, including the fitting of new turbine blades.
Tvind might be regarded as the cradle of the remarkable succesful Danish wind industry. Britta tells windmill mechanics from other windmill producers from all over the world visit them to see where it all began. Also, she tells, smaller models of the turbine blades have been made, which have provided a starting point for commercial windturbine manufacturers.
More than thirty years ago, the Tvind turbine was an act of protest against nuclear power. Until now, there is still no atomic power in Denmark, although forces have started lobbying for a withdrawal of the earlier law against all nuclear plants in Denmark, Britta says.
She seems worried about it. She would rather see that more people would accept that a renewable energy mix of wind, solar, biomass and hydropower is the best answer to our energy needs.
To her, and doubtless many others of the 100 thousand who have helped to built or visited the Tvind turbine, the red and white tower not only symbolises a nuclear protest, but also a belief in the power of the people instead of companies and of the necessity and joys of self reliance.