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Risk is on the Wind

Periodic commentary about the wind energy industry, focusing on news of interest involving wind turbines, wind farms, wind energy projects as well as associated technology and social/political issues. Brought to you by Valentine, your source for superior insurance for wind turbines and wind farms worldwide.

Wind Energy Insurance Interview

Viktor Lawryniuk - Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Valentine works with all the insurance markets to bring you the best and most cost-effective coverage for your wind farm and its turbines! We thought you would enjoy hearing an expert in the field, Traveler's Lauren Berry, talk about wind energy insurance coverage and owner/operator risks.

 Click here to go to the interview.

Yet Another Way to Harness the Wind

Verne Valentine - Monday, February 27, 2012

Makani Power believes the sky's the limit. Why take-up valuable real estate and annoy the NIMBYs when you can set a wing in motion 400 meters up and over the coastline? Tether it with a power cord and let some rotors spin in the high wind and you can be producing electricity more efficiently and at maybe half the cost of a conventional wind turbine.

Think this can't possibly be a reliable addition to the grid? Corwin Hardham, CEO of Makani Power thinks differently: “It has GPS onboard as well as a host of other sensors that enable it to measure its angle, orientation, and several other streams of data and using that data it is able to predict where it should fly to make the most energy, how to make it fly most reliably, so it uses the minimal amount of effort on its servos and also take off and land. It does not need nor do we ever plan to actually interact with something on the ground.

Sounds plausible to me. I like that Hardham came-up with the idea while kite-surfing in San Francisco Bay. Seriously, how many ideas for start-ups get dreamnt-up while sitting in an office somewheres? Creativity usually needs a juxtaposition of thought and activity outside of the mundane, but I digress.

So far their prototype is only 8 meters long and produces a lightweight 20 kW of power but their next wing will be three times larger and capable of producing 600 kW. Their eventual goal is to get up to five mW output.

Here's a TED Talk by Saul Griffith, president and chief scientist at Makani Power:

Always More Innovations

Viktor Lawryniuk - Friday, October 28, 2011

The Law of Accelerating Returns is alive and well in the wind power industry. Just this week I noticed the following:

A “virtually silent” small wind turbine suitable for both urban and rural applications being released to the world this week by Australia’s Renewable Energy Solutions Australia Holdings Ltd. (mercifully they also go by RESA), the Eco Whisper Turbine stands 21 meters in height with 6.5 meter blades and generates 20kW. I’d be happy to see one over my house and just slightly less happy if my neighbors followed suit. Judging by the angle of the row of poplar trees outside, today would be a great day to be wind powered.

The touted silent operation is due to their “unique cowl/ring that prevents air from spilling off the blades.” I’m not sure if the same cowl is what works to minimize bird casualties, but they tout that as well as lower start-up speeds. Also, it wasn’t clear if these will be marketed outside of Australia anytime soon.

The article I sourced this from also has some photos and videos if you want to see more.

Did you know that ConocoPhilips has been awarding an annual energy prize for four years now? And, no, it’s not for the most creative uses of petrochemicals. The 2011 ConocoPhilips Energy Prize, a joint initiative with Penn State University, awarded $125,000 to Ben Glass and Adam Rein of Altaeros Energies for their “Aerostat Platform for Rapid Deployment Airborne Wind Turbine.” The basic idea here is to clear your view of the turbine by hoisting it 2,000 feet straight-up. Besides making for cleaner sight lines the concept also leverages the stronger, more consistent wind up high. A floating turbine might also be useful in remote areas where the ground infrastructure is deficient. In any case, it’s a cool idea and not the only one being floated out there. In fact, there’s already a group called the Airborne Wind Energy Consortium just for those that like to spin up high.

A hat-tip to the EnergyWise blog for bringing this to my attention.

More Wind Innovation

Viktor Lawryniuk - Thursday, September 22, 2011

New fallout from Fukushima, except this is a good thing. Wind lenses. Japan’s reconsideration of its use of nuclear power has given a boost to a technology developed at Kyushu University. Their wind lens is a ring added to a turbine that creates a pocket of low pressure in front resulting in a pressure differential that concentrates wind flow and increases the speed and power output. Prototypes exist on campus in Fukuoka. Take a look at this video to see a real-time test and the really cool design concept for floating these turbines in the ocean.

I discovered there are other wind power enhancement systems with videos on YouTube, although some of them do harm to their cause with the quality of their video. (Thumping dance music anyone?) This one came across OK:

Vortex Wind Funnel

Obvious in Hindsight

Viktor Lawryniuk - Friday, September 16, 2011

Ever see a new design and wonder why it took so long to imagine it? Airgenesis twin-rotor turbineThat was my reaction when I read the article in Windpower Engineering & Development today about the Airgenesis turbine design. Their design has a nacelle with two equal-sized rotors at each end which they claim will capture wind at greater capacity factors than conventional designs. So far so good, but the really forehead-smacking idea of theirs is their placement of most of the heavy equipment (gearboxes and generators) in the base at ground level for easy maintenance. They also use multiple generators so they can replace one without having to shut down the turbine. Clever!

The twin rotor idea has its charms as well as this power curve chart demonstrates. I particularly like that this was basically a better design concept not some radical new technology (I like those too). It demonstrates how important creativity is in engineering. Congratulations to Airgenesis!

Wind Turbines and Hurricanes

Viktor Lawryniuk - Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Do They Play Well Together?

The recent path of Hurricane Irene through the northeast United States blew over or near at least six wind turbine sites. How did the turbines fare? Pretty well it turns out.

The folks at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy published a report on their website with detail from each site on how they dealt with the situation and what happened. The range of responses was interesting. The University of Delaware has one 2MW Gamesa turbine which they hooked-up to a diesel generator to power the active yaw controls that keep it facing into the winds in case the grid went down. (Grid goes down they don’t send or receive power, hence the generator.)

I was surprised to read that the ACUA Jersey Atlantic wind farm with its five GE turbines was a tourist attraction! They even have a webcam trained on some turbines! ACUA reported their turbines were designed to withstand anticipated winds so they merely shut down and did not remove and store the blades.

The 660kW Vestas turbine at Portsmouth Abbey School shut down when the grid did. According to their website, “The turbine generates wind up to 55 mph, then pitches the blades to 90-degree angles and waits for the wind to subside to 45 mph before starting to turn again.”

You can read the rest of the reports here. So far this year neither hurricanes nor earthquakes do more than temporarily shut down wind turbines. Good to know.

Turbines? Who Needs Turbines?

Viktor Lawryniuk - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thanks to a friend I follow on StumbleUpon I read this article on today. “Wind Power Without the Blades: Big Pics” by Alyssa Danigelis is an amazing read about a project that came in second in the Land Art Generator competition sponsored by the planned city, Madsar, in Abu Dhabi. (Madsar itself is a work of environmentally-conscious design art.)

 The Windstalk project is the product of the New York design firm Atelier DNA and as proposed calls for 1,203 180-foot high resin-reinforced carbon-fiber “stalks” that spring from a 33-by-66 foot concrete base, starting at about a foot in width and tapering to two inches at the top. The stalks rely on a piezoelectric effect triggered by the sway from wind to generate power. Additional power is generated in the bases which contain a torque generator that converts the kinetic energy from the stalk into energy using shock absorber cylinders similar to the kind being developed by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Levant Power. Atelier DNA estimates this system would generate power equivalent to that of a wind turbine farm installed in the same land area.

Tall, cattail-like stalks generate electricity by swaying in the wind.

Pretty cool, eh? No noise and looking like a work of art as well. Ms. Danigelis quotes Atelier DNA founding partner Darío Núñez-Ameni as saying “Windstalk is completely silent, and the image associated with them is something we're already used to seeing in a field of wheat or reeds in a marsh. Our hope is that people living close to them will like to walk through the field -- especially at night -- under their own, private sky of swarming stars.”

Not content with reinventing wind power, Atelier DNA is also working on an underwater version they call Wavestalk.

Please visit for more detail and to see the other images of this remarkable concept.

One Way to Cut Maintenance Costs

Viktor Lawryniuk - Friday, August 12, 2011

Ever since I had a phone interview back in June with Gerald Bush, chairman of GUWARA PTY, I have been paying more attention to the maintenance costs associated with running a wind farm. I had grossly underestimated just how expensive maintenance can be with on-site personnel 24x7 at these often remote locations. So when Donald Effren of AutoCopter Corporation contacted me I was eager to hear about his offering.

Have you seen the TV ads for those toy quadcopters you can contrG-15 AutoCopter and pilotol with your iPhone? Well imagine something sized in-between one of those toys and a small piloted helicopter you might see zipping around doing traffic reports. Now imagine remotely operating this AutoCopter up close and personal to your wind turbine tower while capturing everything you see in HD (visible light or in infrared). Close-ups of every bolt and weld and rust spot recorded and archived. Once you review the footage you can send your crew to specific points of interest for testing and repair. According to Effren, you could externally inspect 45 turbines in two days using the AutoCopter whereas in the typical scenario it would take at least 22 days manually. He estimates the cost per turbine inspected at less than $15!

You would still need to perform your internal inspections as before, but I think it’s clear the AutoCopter would save a lot of time and reduce your exposure to the risk of having human inspectors hanging off of your towers for days on end. If I had a turbine maintenance business I think I’d put these babies on the road and ride the inspection circuit.

Renewables Cat Fight

Viktor Lawryniuk - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The granddaddy of renewable energy in the Pacific Northwest, the Bonneville Power Agency, has operated hydroelectric dams in the region for many decades. BPA also rules most of the region’s high-voltage power network. That’s a good thing if you live in these parts, right?

Not if you are a wind farm operator. Turns out BPA has the authority (control of the grid) to cut back power generation from wind farms to make way for increased hydroelectric generation resulting from the largest snowpack since 1997. BPA claims it must do this to protect fish and if there is one thing norwesties like more than renewable energy, it’s salmon…but the wind farm operators think the motivation is really economic.

According to a complaint filed on Monday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, BPA "is using its transmission market power to curtail competing generators in an unduly discriminatory manner in order to protect its preferred customer base from prices it considers" too low. Apparently, if all that power hit the market during low demand (overnight) times it would drive prices negative. Quite the dilemma unless you are basically a monopolist. Since May 17, BPA has cut 74,100 megawatt-hours of wind generation and nearly 9,600 Mwh of fossil generation, according to the agency's website

The FERC complaint was filed on June 13th by four of the largest names in wind power generation, Iberdrola, PacifiCorp, Horizon Wind Energy and Invenergy. Together they represent nearly 2,000 megawatts of wind capacity. When prevented from generating power they not only lose money because they cannot sell power, they also cannot then collect federal production tax credits (PTCs) and state renewable energy credits (RECs).

I think it’s ironic that in the home turf of Microsoft, which was prosecuted by the federal government for being a “monopoly,” we have an actual government monopoly playing favorites but that’s OK. At least with Microsoft you could always buy an Apple or even Linux machine. What recourse other than a lawsuit do these wind farms have?

What would really make sense is creating storage infrastructure. This price differential between overnight and peak rates was the driving force behind a project I worked on in 2007. Customers were lining-up for long-term PPAs to use power at rates lower than what they could buy it for during peak hours and the spread was enough to make a profit for the storage company. But guess who balked at the agreement? The utility.


Global Wind Day, June 15, 2011

Viktor Lawryniuk - Thursday, June 09, 2011

It’s less than a week away! Will you be participating? The parachute drops from a wind turbine tower sound fun, but looking at the map I just realized I would need to travel thousands of miles to the nearest event. This is a particularly sad thing considering all of the wind turbines within just hundreds of miles of my Seattle home base.

 Global Wind Day 2011 Events

If you want to find out where and how to participate go ask Elke Zander at the official Global Wind Day site. According to that site:

The European Wind Energy Association - EWEA - and the Global Wind Energy Council - GWEC - coordinate the Global Wind Day through a network of partners. The day started as a European one in 2007 and went Global in 2009. On 15 June, thousands of public events are organised all over the world.

It may be too late to get something going in the Pacific Northwest this year, but if you are interested in helping organize, they have a link for that:

Want to organise an event yourself? It’s easy!

Click here to find out more.

I’ll leave you with some quotes from the EWEA press release:

"With wind, we can achieve a genuine energy revolution, and on 15 June, people on all continents celebrate the promises that wind power holds for our planet", stated GWEC's Chairman Klaus Rave.

"Fukushima, the Arab spring and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have created enormous public interest in the future of energy" said EWEA President Arthouros Zervos. "Global Wind Day encourages citizens to find out for themselves how wind can make our energy supply more secure and environmentally friendly".