By Kathryn Cooper
Whether at the local, national or global level, the plan for a switch to renewable energy involves two crucial pieces: policy and technology. As I discussed in my previous post, many of the discussions at last month's 7th Annual World Wind Energy Conference focused on the need – and best-practice strategies -- for firm political policy. Certainly, without effective policy, even the best technologies may not reach their potential. But policy relies on an infrastructure of effective tools to get the job done.
A technology geek at heart, I spent a good bit of the conference searching out those tools in the exhibits area, where ingenuity was bursting from entrepreneurs young and old alike. I found it incredibly inspiring to witness the ingenuity of individuals; their drive, passion and commitment to making a difference that fuels so many people in their search for technical solutions. What follows are some of the highlights:
Some opponents of wind power claim the resource isn't reliable. But engineers are countering with the argument that the real problem is our inflexible method of harvesting wind energy. Wind has never pretended to be a steady, static resource – it comes in gusts, and sometimes slows to a whisper. So, in order to harness its power, we need a system that can respond to changes in input.
Engineers Na’ al Nayef and Duraid Nayef of New World Generation Inc., a privately held company with numerous patents in energy storage and wind power generation, have developed CWIND, an innovative variable speed turbine that generates 3-phase power. The main turbine is run by multiple smaller generators that can be engaged together or individually depending on the amount of wind available. The generators can also sense wind gusts and disengage, reducing wear on the mechanical drive. The more flexible system uses its turbine more consistently, and requires fewer costly repairs. An average 2 MW turbine can cost $600,000 to replace, and depending on wind gusts, might require replacement twice over a 20 to 30 year period.
Recent CWIND field trials proved the reliability of the technology. “This testing gives us full confidence to proceed with our commercialization plan to bring utility-scale CWIND turbines to market,” said Paula Mayor, Business Development Manager. “We are now actively seeking strategic partners to take our design to market.”
Lighter-than-Air Wind Turbines
The team at Magenn Power, founded by veteran airship specialist Fred Ferguson, has just found another application for airships in the wind energy arena (see more about this technology in the Worldchanging archives).
Their project, the Magenn Air Rotor System (MARS, pictured at top, image credit: Magenn) is a lighter-than-air tethered wind turbine that rotates horizontally generating electrical energy. The energy is transferred down a 1000-foot tether for immediate use, or to a set of batteries for later use, or to the power grid. It can fly higher than traditionally installed wind turbines thus catching nighttime jet streams. Other advantages, you can install it pretty well anywhere (locations only restricted by the Federal Aviation Administration & Transport Canada), it can handle a wider range of wind speeds and be deployed without heavy cranes. The crew at Magenn says the technology is perfect for remote areas and developing nations. But you never know, you just might find a “balloon wind farm” near you someday.
One House Revolution
Image credit: Volker Thomsen
A visionary and founder of many international companies, Volker Thomsen has worked on renewable energy projects in Denmark and Germany, and is a founding member of the World Wind Energy Institute. A dedicated educator and past president and CEO of St. Lawrence College (Kingston, Ontario), Volker is now using his home as a living example of how renewable energy can be used by everyone. He calls his project, "The One-House Revolution."
The entire project has been developed on a modular basis so that it can be scalable to any size, including apartment complexes. This conventional Canadian home has been converted into a unique self-contained system that generates 100 percent of its own electricity, heat, water and food year-round. The house employs a 5KW solar PV system for electricity, geothermal for heating and cold storage, and a FAST biological sewage treatment system for water regeneration. The winter garden yields fresh vegetables even during Canada's snowbound winters.
The Thomsens are recording their annual savings, which they currently estimate at more than $10,000. “My main purpose,” explains Volker, “is to give people the guidance to convert their homes in the same way. Here I have created a zero footprint home and I want to make this technology accessible to anyone.” Volker is penning his “One House Revolution” experience in a book that will be completed in the Fall, 2009. He will also open his house to schools and the public to share his learning.
The NDSS Stirling Engine Project
Photo credit: Kathryn Cooper
Next up, an educated tug of the heartstrings. A group of 17-year-old high school students from the Napanee District Secondary School (NDSS) in Napanee, Ontario presented a compelling and well-researched plea urging adult decision-makers to adopt and deploy renewable energy solutions.
Under the direction of teacher George Knight, the team of students spent the past 18 months building their version of a home-based solar powered Stirling engine. While leading firm Stirling Energy Systems (SES) has commercialized this technology for solar farms, it is not currently available for small scale applications.
“The question is whether we are going to take the big steps now to avoid the really big jumps later,” observed student team member Jake Mitchell before the international audience of world wind energy thought leaders. “I feel if we (as students) can take some of these steps, why can’t the rest of the world?”
Knight spoke proudly of his students' keen interest and commitment to finding a renewable energy alternative for home use. “I want you to picture how much better our lives would be if we could take the energy of the youth of the world, gave them the knowledge, the skills and the means, and challenge them to repair the planet we are leaving them.”
Photo credit: Kathryn Cooper
Wind Energy Training Centers in New Mexico and Alberta, Canada
Finally, on the education front: wind energy technology classes are gearing up across North America. General Electric Corporation and Mesalands Community College in New Mexico just signed a contract for a 1.5 MW wind turbine to support their Wind Energy Technology Program. The program will be similar to Lethbridge College’s Wind Turbine Technology course, where candidates learn to test, maintain and service wind generation equipment. Lethbridge is one of five Canadian colleges that will offer this program. St. Lawrence College, host of the 7th World Wind Energy Conference, is in the process of developing their curriculum to train wind technicians.
Kathryn Cooper is a sustainability practitioner and a researcher in sustainability and education at York University, Toronto, Canada.