Clear Labeling Helps Brake the Wind Generator

By , October 12, 2012

Not so very long ago, exchanges like the following were all too common in our cabin:

“Stand by the brake, and turn it on as soon as I tell you!

“Wait, turn it on? Do you mean turn the brake on, or—”


“Wait! Am I turning the brake on or off?”

“What? Wait, don’t turn it on, there’s a gust!”


Trying to brake the wind generator in high winds is a difficult job. It’s a two-person process, as one stands in the cabin corner at the brake, while the other stands at the window, or, more often, out on the porch, watching for a moment when the wind generator is not furled (turned sideways to the force of the wind). To safely brake the blades, the generator needs to be normal (not furling), and moving slowly enough to stop within 30 seconds. This made for a very narrow window of opportunity, one that accommodates no confusion.

The confusion is caused by semantics: the brake turns on, the wind turns off, and vice versa. The watcher, waiting for a short opportunity, usually says something like “turn IT off,” which doesn’t clarify anything.

That doesn’t happen anymore, since we found a solution.

labeled brake switch

Even the most panicked person should be able to interpret this switch (Photo: Mark Zeiger.)

When I built our homemade wind generator brake, I printed a label on magnet-backed printer paper. I cut out a hole for the switch with a knife, and slapped it on the switch cover. With bright colors, big arrows, and each switch position expressed in two different ways, no one could be confused! It’s fading—I’ll probably need to print a new one soon.

Our current controller has a feature that disengages the generator, putting in “regulation mode.” This helps a lot, as it keeps us from needing to brake the blades within 30 seconds, but we still find the job challenging in high winds. Clear labeling really helps!


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