Tapping nature’s tools to benefit the planet

People who want to reduce their carbon footprint might shop with reusable grocery bags, drive hybrid cars or toss their newspapers in recyclable trash bins. But Maurice Ramirez, D.O.’91, Ph.D., and his wife, Allison Sakara, N.P., P.H.R.N., have taken a much bigger step to lighten their load on the planet. 

In 2019, they erected a 90-foot-tall wind turbine on their Lake Wales, FL, property, the first in the state’s Polk County and the first noncoastal grid-tied wind turbine in the state. 

“We asked ourselves how we could generate power when it’s dark and stormy,” Maurice says. “The answer? A wind turbine!” 

The couple worked with the county to write an ordinance to allow for a wind energy conversion system (WECS) and obtain approval from county commissioners and the board of adjustments. They also had to overcome concerns about the tower’s height, operational noise and any potential dangers to the environment. They found a WECS endorsed by the Audubon Society as bird-safe. They also received endorsements from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and their neighboring property holder, The Nature Conservancy. 

Addressing noise output, however, proved to be more problematic. 

“After the wind turbine was installed, we discovered that it was noisier than the U.S. Department of Energy certification documents led us to believe,” Maurice says. “The tower was acting like a giant stethoscope.” It amplified its ground level noise to 90 decibels, equivalent to a riding lawn mower. 

Fortunately, as an undergraduate at Florida State University, Maurice studied sound physics under a Nobel Laureate, and Allison, a regulatory affairs specialist for medical devices, is an accomplished concert musician; they recognized that resonance was the problem. They designed a system to mitigate resonance amplification, cutting the tower’s noise by more than 90 percent. They now have a patent pending for their system, which would be one of several patents the two have pending or already hold. 

“We’re both medical disaster response specialists,” says Maurice, the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award in Disaster Medicine. “We’re used to coming up with ‘MacGyver’ solutions,” referring to the famously creative problem-solving character of the CBS television series. “This is what made me a good emergency room physician and diagnostician.” 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an efficient new home consumes 30 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per 24-hour day, while the average older home consumes 85 kWh per day. The couple purchased an existing home found to consume 90 kWh per day. Now, with the 81 solar panels they installed and the wind turbine, their home generates 90 to 160 kWh per day, pending weather. That allows them to “bank” energy with the local power company against future needs, then annually sell back the remaining kWh to the local power grid. 

“Allison and I believe that, as health care professionals, we have a responsibility to lead by example when it comes to global problems that impact individual and global health,” Maurice explains. “Even if you don’t invest in solar and wind power, just spending a few thousand dollars to improve your home’s energy efficiency and indoor air quality generates both local and global benefits.” 

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