Farm Horizons, August 2007

Electricity from the wind and a resourceful mind

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Larry Otto, a Lester Prairie resident and a 1974 Holy Trinity graduate, does not see himself as an inventor.

What he does like is improving items already being used in his home or on his farm, or making practical items to make life a little easier and possibly save money.

The 50-foot-high wind generator in his yard, north of Lester Prairie on McLeod County Road 9, is his most recent project. Otto refers to his wind generator as a little experimental one when he compares it to big commercial ones with blades as long as his entire tower.

He started thinking about putting up a wind generator three or four years ago when some other wind turbines were put up in the area, but did not begin the project until last fall. He finished it in February of this year.

He is using the generator to produce electricity, which is used to preheat water stored in a reserved tank in his basement. The water coming into the reserved tank is about 50 degrees and the electricity from the wind generator heats it to 100 degrees. The water is then transferred to his electrical water heater. The water heater takes over heating the water an additional 30 degrees.

He was able to build the wind generator with the help of web site instructions and many items he had found laying around the farm.

Setting up the tower was a major part of the overall project. Its position on the farm is high above any wind obstructions – especially obstructions between the generator and the direction the wind usually blows. Any obstacle around the generator will cause turbulence which is hard on the wind generator itself and can cause the loss of lots of power.

With an old silo winch he purchased from neighbors, the tower can be raised and lowered by a heavy cable for convenience in doing maintenance or repair work on the tower.

“It was something needed because otherwise, someone would have to come out with a crane to do labor on it, and it would be too expensive. It only takes about two minutes to lower the tower to the ground,” Otto said.

In addition to the cable, the tower is held in place by wires anchored into the ground and attached to the tower, which keep it rigid.

The tower is made of a heavy duty metal and is sturdy enough to allow Otto to increase the blade diameter, if he wants to in the future.

Right now, the wooden blades are 10 feet long. By increasing the blade’s overall diameter, the power created by the wind generator also increases, according to Otto.

The blades also required a great deal of time to make. Generally, wind generator blades are wider at the base and narrower at the tips.

“I carved them out of wood so there is a slight twist to them. It helps so that all parts of the blade get the most of the wind. The blades haven’t fallen apart yet,” Otto said with a smile.

Otto adds that three blades are what most of the wind generators use.

“Three blades are the easiest to balance. Two and four blades will cause it to shake. With six, the air can’t get out of the way for the next blade. It really is in the blade size, not the number,” Otto said.

The motor used on the tower was a three-horsepower commercial auger motor that was salvaged from the farm. There was quite a bit of machining involved, Otto said.

The motor generates electricity, which transfers down the tower to an underground service cable buried about 18 inches deep and is connected to the water tank that preheats the water in the basement.

Otto’s extensive undertakings have made life easier on the farm and also saved dollars

Otto was in elementary school when his father bought their first welder. It was not long before Larry, with his two brothers, Ron and Bob, discovered its value.

They began by making go-carts, that they raced around the farm, out of scrap iron and using lawn mower engines. Since then, they have graduated to bigger and much more useful projects.

They have constructed what Larry calls an air handling system, which makes loading grain a much easier chore. An air pump blows the corn through pipes and moves it from outdoor grain bins stored at ground level to overhead indoor grain bins that hold up to 1,000 bushels of grain.

The semi truck backs in under the overhead grain bins and a chute is opened up. The corn falls into the semi truck. Usually, loading the truck takes about five minutes.

Another project is a 12-row cultivator, which the brothers created by welding together parts of an eight- row cultivator. Larry was proud of the cost savings when compared to purchasing a new 12-row cultivator.

The projects just keep adding up. The brothers took wooden hay wagons and welded racks, which were added to the wagons so they could be used for bale throwing.

Solar panels have been placed on the south side of the Otto house and used in the winter to help heat the house. A tree shades the panels during the summer when additional heat is not needed. When the leaves, fall off in the fall, the panel starts collecting the suns rays.

For the summer months, Larry has set up a geo-thermo air conditioning system. By circulating cold water through pipes underground he is able to provide central air conditioning for his home.

He also admits to having a few of his creations end up on the scrap pile, but it isn’t something that he worries about. He just likes to keep busy.

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