What do fidget spinners and wind turbines have in common?

This blog was written by Simon Mahan, former Energy Policy Manager at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | August 14, 2017 | Energy Policy, Wind

If you’ve been near school-age children lately, you know fidget spinners are all the rage. Fidget spinners are these three-lobed toys that have several circular ball bearing appendages that help you spin the device as you fidget; hence “fidget spinners”.

As I attended the American Wind Energy Association’s WINDPOWER 2017 conference in Anaheim this past May, a number of expo exhibitors were giving away fidget spinners as conference attendee swag. At first, I just thought these companies were simply jumping on a trend, but then began to think a bit about the similarities between fidget spinners and wind turbines. No, really.

I picked up three different fidget spinners, and immediately noticed that they all felt different. A fidget spinner’s ability to spin (and keep spinning, unhindered), relies heavily on its internal ball bearings as well as lubrication. Wobbly ball bearings, or inadequate lubrication meant friction and inefficient spinning – just like wind turbines. Wind turbines use a number of ball bearings, slew rings and lubrication oils to reduce friction and improve spin. In fact, ball bearing companies were pretty enthralled with the fidget spinners as giveaways for the conference.

Wind turbines can use a form of biodegradable mineral oil for lubrication, so it’s not as environmentally harmful as other types of oils. Sure enough, there were free samples of various lubricants available at the WINDPOWER 2017 expo. I picked some up to keep my fidget spinners in top performance. You can immediately tell the difference in noise levels from a poorly lubricated spinner (in white), then the drop in noise after its lubricated.

Just like the fidget spinner, a well lubricated and cared for wind turbine shouldn’t make much noise.

Surely there are some additional similarities between wind turbines and fidget spinners, but let’s not get too distracted.

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