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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.

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!

Turbines? Who Needs Turbines?

Viktor Lawryniuk - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thanks to a friend I follow on StumbleUpon I read this article on Discovery.com 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 Discover.com 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.

Good News When You Look for It

Viktor Lawryniuk - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I just read a blog post by AWEA CEO Denise Bode (www.awea.org/blog) and wanted to make sure the facts it outlines are seen as far and wide as possible. Denise makes the case that “wind energy is clean, affordable, homegrown and abundant.” Old news largely except for the affordable part. Did you know that the price of electricity from new wind power plants is competitive with other new power plants? This is based on the 2009 Department of Energy estimate that electricity from new wind plants costs 4-9 cents per kilowatt-hour. I must admit I still thought it was more expensive, didn’t you? And this is a price not subject to geopolitical risk (fuel price spikes) or regulatory risk (largely, except for perhaps future mitigation rules which may drive costs up as more land is required, etc.)

Here are the bullet points from her post I think are worth repeating here and elsewhere:

  • In the past four years, wind turbines accounted for 35% of all new generating capacity installed in the U.S., more than coal and nuclear combined.
  • In 2011, U.S. wind farm plants will produce nearly as much electricity as 10 nuclear power plants.
  • In the past three years, the new wind farm capacity installed is enough to generate as much electricity as five nuclear power plants.
  • To generate as much electricity as U.S. wind turbines will generate this year, more than half a million barrels of oil a day would be required (210 million barrels all told, or nearly 9 billion gallons).
  • To generate as much electricity as U.S. wind turbines will generate this year, a coal train more than 6,000 miles long (more than the distance from Los Angeles to Tokyo) would be required.
  • During the Bush Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy found that wind energy could supply 20% of U.S. electricity (roughly what nuclear supplies today) by 2030. To do that, wind would have to generate as much electricity as 75 nuclear plants.
  • The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates total U.S. wind resources at 14 MILLION MW--enough to generate roughly 10 times all of the electricity our nation uses.

I believe in Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns and fully expect we ain’t seen nothing yet. New technologies will make wind turbines more efficient, less expensive and available in a myriad of forms and sizes.

New Design for Micro Wind Turbines?

Viktor Lawryniuk - Thursday, February 03, 2011

Did you even realize people were considering building micro wind turbines? Picture this: a wind turbine with 25-centimeter-long paper blades generating less than 10 watts of energy that could be used to recharge a mobile phone or light LEDs. What’s more is that the design was inspired by dragonfly wings! According to a February 2, 2011 article in New Scientist, “the way a dragonfly remains stable in flight is being mimicked to develop micro wind turbines that can withstand gale-force winds.”

The research was conducted by Akira Obata of Nippon Bunri University in Oita, Japan and focused on the aerodynamic properties of the swirling vortices created by insect’s wings. Obata discovered that his tested models showed smooth flow with little drag at low speeds. He and his colleagues used their insights to develop a micro wind turbine with paper blades that have bumps on their surface similar to what creates the dragonfly vortices. As the tested wind speeds increased (to 145 kilometers per hour!) the blades bent into a cone effectively disengaging the mechanism. Large turbines require either computerized systems or other special designs to cope with high wind speeds which otherwise could damage the generator.

Kudos to Obata and company for the clever implementation! I’m imagining a row of these micro turbines unobtrusively adding to energy independence. For the full article, please go to: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20927975.000-dragonfly-wings-inspire-micro-wind-turbine-design.html