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October 26, 2009

OWC Facility First to Be 100 Percent On-Site Wind Powered

Woodstock, Ill. lies to the northwest of Chicago, the “Windy City” but it is there rather than in the huge metropolis where the wind truly goes to work. Other World Computing’s corporate HQ that is located in Woodstock has become first U.S. technology manufacturer/distributor to become 100 percent on-site wind powered.
 
OWC has just switched its daily operations energy needs over to a Vestas V39-500 kW wind turbine. Completely on-site powered, OWC can run its resource-conserving LEED Platinum designed facility and Internet operations datacenter, which opened in 2008, on this renewable, non-polluting power source.

The new OWC wind turbine is projected to generate an estimated 1.25 million kilowatt hours per year. This is more than double the current energy requirements of all OWC operations, including its datacenter which includes OWC.net and FasterMac.net ISP and webhosting services. The wind turbine produces enough energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, to power a typical U.S. suburban subdivision – like those sprawling towards Woodstock – annually.
 
With peak wind conditions, the OWC wind turbine can generate more energy in a single week than what OWC’s operations require for an entire month. Excess energy produced by OWC wind turbine will be sold back to the local power provider, thus making OWC a net supplier of sustainable energy to the McHenry County, Ill. region.

Designed as part of the overall vision unveiled in 2006 for the new OWC corporate headquarters, the OWC wind turbine installation was designed to produce power at winds speeds as low as nine mph based upon the OWC campus site conditions average wind speed of 10-15 mph. The tower is 131 feet high with the blades extending the turbine’s total height to 194 feet. The blade housing can rotate 360 degrees so it can turn facing into winds up to 150 mph. During extreme winds, the blades automatically go “flat” with the narrowest point into the wind and in essence, shut the turbine down until it senses safe operational wind speeds.
 
As a drive in late May on I-90 south of Woodstock indicates, supply of wind is rarely an issue. Whenever there isn’t adequate wind power generation, the local utility company will remain as the backup power source for OWC. Additionally, in the event of a combined wind and utility company power blackout, OWC has two additional on-site backup power systems so it can continue serving its customers without interruption.

The cost to install a wind turbine of OWC’s caliber is typically $1.25 million with a return on investment of 100 percent within 10 to 14 years based upon a 25 percent front-end investment and current energy costs. The actual ROI recovery period can be reduced significantly as energy costs increase. As the firm does not use natural gas or any external fuel type for its heating needs, with the wind turbine now online, it has become an overall net energy producer.

The OWC wind turbine installation is the most recent addition to OWC’s facility. It is currently in the final approval stages for the highest LEED rating of Platinum, according to company officials.
 
The facility is energy conscious. It has a geo-thermal ground-coupled heat pump system, along with high insulation value glass windows and exterior sunshade technology for reduced cooling costs while high insulation value materials are used throughout the building. There are also smart sensors to detect and adjust energy in unused rooms, fiber optic rooftop light-harvesting technology and Sloan high-efficiency hand driers in washrooms for energy/paper savings

The OWC center site limits water use and waste. There is a permeable paver system for environmentally friendly run-off water handling, and Bio Swales landscaping, use of native plants and prairie grasses, and Sloan Waterless Urinals and dual-mode toilets for water conservation. Also a high-efficiency drinking water filtration system to eliminate need for delivered water.
 
OWC has taken other steps to make its building environmentally sound. These include using low-impact cleaning products, company-wide recycling with near zero waste generation, and facilities for employees to commute to work by bicycle.
 
And while there are government green energy and conservation programs, OWC has paid for its investments from its own pocket. The expected results will hopefully show other companies that they too can DIY going green and ‘harvest green’ in the process.
 
“I made the decision to 100 percent self fund this project because of the conservational benefits as well as the future cost of energy,” said Larry O’Connor, CEO, Other World Computing. “With the kilowatt hour rate in the Chicago market up 24.3 percent since 1999, it only makes sense to use technology to lower our usage and costs related to traditional power sources.”


Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Erin Harrison
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