Improving Wind Turbines  

Posted by Big Gav in

Grist has a post on new ideas for improving wind power technology, pointing to a Tyler Hamilton "Clean Break" column in the Toronto Star - Wind turbines get fancy.

Solar energy sucks up a lot of research attention, partly because solar energy systems still have so much room for improvement. Wind turbines, on the other hand, have been around for over 1,000 years, and although the modern versions are vastly larger and more efficient than their ancient counterparts, the basic concept hasn't changed much.

But the standard blades-on-a-horizontal-axle version of wind energy systems (as opposed to more exotic flavors like kites or blimps) may yet be poised for some big leaps forward, several of which were profiled in a recent Clean Break column.

I've already covered Catch the Wind's laser-based system for creating 3-D maps of wind direction and speed. That technology would seem to pair well with a new gearbox design from ExRo that allows turbines to much more efficiently turn fluctuating air currents into stable electricity.

Presently wind turbines use a mechanical transmission to smooth out the speed at which energy is delivered to an internal generator. Think of the way in which the gears of a bicycle allow you to pedal at a roughly constant speed whether you're going uphill or down.

Mechanical transmissions work well enough, but they're both expensive and somewhat inefficient. ExRo's design does away with the old gearboxes and replaces them with a generator that can electronically adapt to different wind speeds. The resulting system can harness wind at both higher and lower speeds than traditional designs and may boost energy output by up to 50 percent while lowering costs. ...

Elsewhere, mechanical engineering professor Majid Rashidi hopes that using curved surfaces to act as a sort of lens for concentrating the wind's energy will help to make small-scale wind turbines more economically viable. In a similar vein, FloDesign is working to improve an old idea: surrounding a wind turbine with a shroud that funnels air toward the blades.

Long story short: the next time you read an article on cost barriers to wind, remember that a lot of those barriers are poised to fall.


My thoughts exactly. Increasing the energy harvest per turbine is greatly overlooked. New airfoil design (Whalepower Tubercles) that generate more than twice the power in low wind speed, while still generating max power at higher wind speeds. More advanced torque machines allow longer blades, further increasing the energy gain per turbine. Such blades would spin slower but that's no longer a problem with the modern high torque machines and the above airfoil advances. Combined with the ExRo variable coil generators, and Catch the Wind laser optics, we're talking seriously increased energy gain per turbine, reducing cost per kWh while also reducing intermittency (and related costs) substantially.

I think double today's average energy harvest per turbine is going to be the rule rather than an exception.

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