Success has many fathers, goes the old saw. And so it is with the wind industry. There is official history and then there is the sometimes more interesting nonofficial history, you know, real life. First, we present an official version of one genuine pioneer of wind energy and then get to a more interesting anecdote.
NASA files say that in the 1970s, Dr. Joseph Savino tackled a task presented by the Agency and the National Science Foundation to prepare a feasibility study on wind turbine technology as an alternative power-generating industry.
Savino accepted the job and the results generated sufficient interest that led to the U.S. hosting a Wind Energy Workshop, which drew worldwide interest. When last interviewed at 76, Savino had become an advocate for the advancement of wind energy as a growth industry in Northeast Ohio.
“Little literature was available on wind turbines then, but the Glenn Library was indispensable in aiding my research,” Savino said for a NASA publication. “The outcome was key to the center leading the U.S. Wind Energy Program from 1973 to 1985 for large horizontal-axis wind turbines, the most widely used systems in use today.”
While there have been many technologies adopted from that era for energy application, Savino was convinced still more exist across the agency that have yet to be introduced to the current market. To find the hidden technology, Savino contacted his protégée, Dr. Larry Viterna, to mount support from NASA to help make wind energy a significant part of Ohio’s electricity portfolio.
Viterna, who was Glenn’s lead for Strategy and Business Development, shared an office with Savino and led the Wind Energy Program Office’s aerodynamics team from 1978 to 1981.
“Joe was the catalyst for NASA meeting and consulting with regional leaders to promote wind energy as a viable industry for Ohio. He has been an inspiration to me and key to my involvement, as well as the center’s,” Viterna said in an earlier interview. He added that it was Savino’s motivation that let Viterna made a chance discovery that a model he had coauthored for predicting wind turbine power had become something of a universal standard.
In addition, Dr. Erwin Zaretsky, a scientist who worked with Savino, says Savino saw the possibility of wind power in the 1970s and petitioned NASA Lewis (at the time, it’s now NASA Glenn) for funds to pursue the building of a couple wind turbines.
But after having a grant proposal accepted, he found that building a working model was going to be more expensive than expected. The gearbox, for instance, was quoted at about $60,000, much more than was budgeted. But after a discussion with Cleveland-based gearbox manufacturing Horseberger and Scott, the company offered a unit a customer has refused delivery. Savino and team could have it for $20,000. He took it and on something of a shoestring budget, built a wind turbine on which most utility scale turbines are modeled to this day.
Zaretsky recalls that Savino’s design confirmed the potential of wind power. NASA, Savino, and Viterna went on to build four wind turbines at the Plum Brook Station in Ohio. The largest of which was rated at four-megawatts, which stood at the largest on the planet for at least 25 years.
Savino’s contributions to wind energy and other notable efforts over his 41 years of service to NASA was recognized during a ceremony for the Outstanding Mechanical Engineer Award presented by Purdue University’s School of Mechanical Engineering in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is one of seven recipients who have demonstrated exemplary accomplishments and leadership in industry, academia and government service.
Savino earned three mechanical engineering degrees from Purdue University — a bachelor’s in 1952, a master’s in 1953, and a doctor of philosophy in 1955 — before joining the staff at NACA/NASA in the summer of 1955. Savino died in 2012
Editor’s Note: For more on the pioneering work in wind turbines and the contributions by NASA Glenn’s (then Lewis) visit http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/technologies/wind_turbines.