The dirtiest wind power in America

In the left-hand corner of this photo, towards the back of the shot, you can see what researchers at Colorado State University jokingly call "the dirtiest wind power in America."

In reality, it's a diesel-powered electric generator—just a smarter version of the kind of machine that you might kick on at your house during a blackout. But this dirty diesel is actually helping to make our electric grid cleaner. This room is a smart grid research laboratory, a place where scientists and engineers learn more about how wind and solar power affect our old electric infrastructure, and try to develop systems that will make our grid more stable and more sustainable.

They use this diesel generator to model wind power on a micro-grid. The electricity produced by a wind farm doesn't enter the grid as a steady, flat signal. Instead, it fluctuates, oscillating up and down with shifts in wind currents. The diesel generator can mimic those patters of electricity production. With it, Colorado State researchers can study the behavior of wind currents all over the United States without having to have labs in all those places. They can also recreate wind events that have already happened—like a major storm—to find out how that event affected the grid and learn how to better adapt the grid to future situations.

The Energy and Engines Conversion Lab at Colorado State University

Learn more about how the grid works and how renewables fit into our existing infrastructure in my book, Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us.

Image: Dan Bihn, courtesy Colorado State University


  1. Hah, I was wondering if they were using it to blow air through a wind tunnel for windmill testing.

    1. i believe you are making a joke about the outside of the actual generator or maybe its internals.  but if you just said “buy a better quality of fuel” it could indeed make the actual generation “cleaner” w/ regards to carbon emissions if they used cleanly produced bio-diesel or just switched it to waste veggie oil.

      1.   @eroc   No joke. Regular maintenance is the easiest way to keep emissions at a minimum. As a heavy equipment operator for over 40 years, I’ve seen diesels improve vastly. I know they will never please everyone, but CAN be run responsibly.

  2. What would it be like to have an elastic load- that did real work- be part of the grid? At home it might mean a ceramic kiln that was plugged in and ready to go, but didn’t turn on until there was a surplus that needed absorption. More realistic I suppose would be an aluminum smelter built to only/mostly take up surplus load.

    When I run the dishwasher or the laundry room, I rarely come back to handle the stuff immediately when the cycle is over, it usually takes me a while to remember. If I set it up just to use free juice, it could send me a text when it was done and I’d be fine with that.

    Toasters and hair dryers and refrigerators- not so much.

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