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Ten new wind turbine designs
July 12, 2009 7:25 PM   Subscribe

Ten new wind turbine designs. Curious, grotesque, sculptural, beautiful, utilitarian.
posted by Slithy_Tove (52 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Quiet storm, blowin' through my life.
posted by box at 7:34 PM on July 12, 2009


Frank Fish, president and founder of WhalePower,

Nominative Determinism at its finest.
posted by Rumple at 7:36 PM on July 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


The turbines have some great names too--WePOWER, Windspire, Quiet Revolution--it's like they all got their start as early-'90s science-fair projects.
posted by box at 7:38 PM on July 12, 2009


a.k.a. The Bird Blender
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:49 PM on July 12, 2009


I love that Wind Belt!
posted by Chuckles at 7:59 PM on July 12, 2009


So where's the grotesque? When someone says grotesque, I expect a wind turbine designed by Geiger or Maplethorpe. Some of these turbines looked a little rickety, but non looked grotesque. This is false advertising!

It could have been worse I suppose- it's not at the level of "Save your wind turbine's boobies, my lord!", but still, is it too much to ask for to have David Lynch to design a wind turbine?
posted by happyroach at 8:04 PM on July 12, 2009


Some neat ideas there. I'd love to read more about the aerodynamics of the whale-blade (I've seen serrated trailing edges on wings before, but that was just for noise reduction. Maybe this is akin to slotted flaps?)

The "wind ribbon" is particularly interesting because of its size, but I think it would only resonate at one windspeed. You would need a control system to continuously tension the ribbon, which would defeat the purpose of a "cheap" turbine.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:05 PM on July 12, 2009


How about Rural Americana???
posted by spock at 8:27 PM on July 12, 2009


Very cool! Can someone explain the idea behind the Sky Serpent? The guy mumbled something at the end about "higher RPMs and more swept area with lower rotor mass... electrons," but I couldn't really understand it. Why is this better than a single rotor-turbine design?
posted by albrecht at 8:30 PM on July 12, 2009


I was really interested in the Honeywell unit that is supposed to be sold to consumers in the near future - that was until I did some math. They plaster the advertisement with saving 30% on your bills, but most of that is if you buy the "kit" and swap your regular bulbs for their fluorescent bulbs.

The wind turbine itself costs $4,500 and they estimate 2000 kWh/yr energy production. At my current energy costs, including all taxes and so on, 2000 kWh is worth about $205. So the unit will pay for itself in about 22 years. The FAQ says it has a 5 year warranty and an estimated 20 year lifespan. That means this thing needs to cost about $1000 including installation (which they estimate will be an additional $500-$1500).

We have to do better for alternative energy to make any sort of a dent.
posted by Muddler at 8:45 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


$5K in initial costs and a 22 year payback period isn't bad compared to solar and that's still selling like hotcakes in California and Arizona. For the midwest where solar isn't really useful a decent household-sized wind kit would probably do great.
posted by GuyZero at 8:49 PM on July 12, 2009


Also, in many places the power company is mandated to buy power back a 2 to 5 times the rate it sells it for. That's the only thing that makes solar viable in California. You're buying power at 11 centers per kWh but selling at something like 85 cents per kWh.
posted by GuyZero at 8:50 PM on July 12, 2009


I don't know.. It is going to flap for a wide range of wind speeds. The amount of energy you can extract will have a maxima at some wind speed, of course, but it doesn't have to be optimal to be useful...
posted by Chuckles at 8:56 PM on July 12, 2009


The Popular Mechanics page could use some analysis of basic questions like: "Did they pay for themselves financially? Carbonwise? Would it have been better to put the funds into a large windmill?"

A real-world test performed by the Dutch province of Zeeland (a very windy place) confirms our earlier analysis that small windmills are a fundamentally flawed technology
...
Close to the test site stands a (relatively) large windmill with a rotor diameter of 18 meters. It delivers 143,000 kWh per year, or an average power output of 16,324 watts. It can power 42 Dutch households. This large windmill costs only slightly more than all small windmills combined (17 percent more, to be exact, or 190,000 euro), but it delivers almost 20 times more energy. This comes down to 4,523 euro per household.

Wind power rules, but small windmills are a swindle. Bigger is, in this case, better.

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2009/04/small-windmills-test-results.html

Slashdot discussion
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:57 PM on July 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


A lot of these are prototypes. The Windspire (No. 3) is shipping now, and is short enough to evade many zoning restrictions on residential wind energy. It is also gorgeous, like many of these new wind turbines. Really classes up a common moisture farm ....

I've been on the mailing list for a while, and the last update had a new, lower price. I hope to install mine this Fall.
posted by kenlayne at 9:26 PM on July 12, 2009


That wind belt thing is pretty amazing. Only $2, but of course you're talking about a tiny amount of energy, much less then you would get with a turbine.
posted by delmoi at 10:38 PM on July 12, 2009


Oh and that balloon thing is pretty awesome too.
posted by delmoi at 10:38 PM on July 12, 2009


We have to do better for alternative energy to make any sort of a dent.

Well that's the whole point of having a carbon tax (or cap 'n' trade). Rather then trying to bring down the cost of alternative energy, you just jack up the cost of CO2 emitting energy.
posted by delmoi at 10:41 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


These are pretty in an industrial sort of way. Not grotesque at all. Why isn't there one made out of meat? Preferably with squid tentacles for blades and a gigantic eye in the center?
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:42 PM on July 12, 2009


Why isn't there one made out of meat? Preferably with squid tentacles for blades and a gigantic eye in the center?

Because the whale-flipper based one would eat it, natch.

I'm just surprised at the lack of go-faster stripes or painted flames, let alone spoiler, chromed exhaust, light kits, or decals.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:00 AM on July 13, 2009


cnet: Study delivers blow to urban microwind turbines
Warwick Wind Trials: Report

cnet: Study: Microwind turbines a tough sell in Mass.
The Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust commissioned a study last year to review electricity output from 21 small wind turbines in the state and the results were surprising: the data showed that the estimated production was about three times higher than the turbines' actual production.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:50 AM on July 13, 2009


The Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust commissioned a study last year to review electricity output from 21 small wind turbines in the state and the results were surprising: the data showed that the estimated production was about three times higher than the turbines' actual production.

That's only surprising if you haven't been paying attention, micro turbines have been criticised for never reaching their rated capacity for some time, particularly galling when you consider the high cost per rated unit of power (typically ~6x a large turbine cost if you're thinking of buying). We tested a micro turbine at our facilities here and it never got above ~65% of rated capacity despite our having excellent wind resources onsite.
posted by biffa at 1:44 AM on July 13, 2009


I'd gotten interested in smaller wind turbines, like the Aerotecture, because during the times that solar doesn't do well during the year, wind speed generally increases. Generally. I don't think the technology is there yet, though. It seems that Giant Frikkin' Rotors are the way to go.

The part I was surprised to learn was that wind speed doubles for every forty feet of elevation (and I'd love to see a good cite for this), so one of the best ways to get a better return out of your turbine was to get it up as far as you can.
posted by adipocere at 2:31 AM on July 13, 2009


The part I was surprised to learn was that wind speed doubles for every forty feet of elevation (and I'd love to see a good cite for this)

I find that extremely unlikely. That means at 80ft of elevation you have 4x the speed. At 160ft of elevation you have 16x the wind speed. At this rate, modestly tall buildings would be experiencing frequent cyclonic conditions.

And my quick grabbing of the first Google result I came across seems to confirm this.
posted by Jimbob at 3:48 AM on July 13, 2009


This 30-foot tall, 4-foot wide turbine generates 2000 kilowatts per hour

They can't possibly mean 2000 kW; a 30 foot tall/4 foot wide cylinder cannot be a 2 megawatt turbine. This is a 2 megawatt turbine. Plus, "kilowatts per hour" is a complete failure at units.

In fact, it turns out that the Windspire is capable of generating "2000 kWh" (that's kilowatt-hours, not kilowatts/hr) per year in 12 mph wind, with up to 1.2 kW instantaneous power at 25 mph wind speed.

Thanks, Popular Science writers, for failing to use your brains, remember a physics class, or even carefully read your source material.
posted by musicinmybrain at 3:54 AM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


As somebody who follows this technology and knows a couple of things about aerodynamics, I found most of these designs fall in the "meh" and "nothing revolutionary" categories. With the exception of the Windbelt (No. 5), which, Holy Theodore von Kármán, is actually a beautifully elegant design. I must wonder whether it would be possible to upscale it and achieve a high efficiency.
posted by Skeptic at 4:29 AM on July 13, 2009


WHALES AREN'T FISH!
posted by DU at 4:37 AM on July 13, 2009


With the exception of the Windbelt (No. 5), which, Holy Theodore von Kármán, is actually a beautifully elegant design. I must wonder whether it would be possible to upscale it and achieve a high efficiency.

I think the Windbelt is, by far, the most interesting concept. Solving the problem on a small scale and at the end-user really interests me.

At the end of the video, the designer says he thinks that the design could be scaled up greatly ( think tensioning a belt across a valley), but I think that defeats the purpose.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:37 AM on July 13, 2009


Benny, what intrigues me about the Windbelt is whether, apart from its beautiful simplicity, it could turn out to be more efficient than a bladed turbine. The aerodynamics are...interesting, and aerodynamics nerds will have caught my von Kármán reference. As for the idea of tensioning a belt across a valley, it has been (involuntarily) done before, with spectacular effects...

Anyway, the simplicity is already appealing enough. Apart from providing a super-cheap small source of energy for rural dwellings, I can think of a number of alternative uses.
posted by Skeptic at 6:24 AM on July 13, 2009



DU: WHALES AREN'T FISH!
The uncertain, unsettled condition of this science of Cetology is in the very vestibule attested by the fact, that in some quarters it still remains a moot point* whether a whale be a fish. In his System of Nature, A.D. 1776, Linnaeus declares, "I hereby separate the whales from the fish." But of my own knowledge, I know that down to the year 1850, sharks and shad, alewives and herring, against Linnaeus's express edict, were still found dividing the possession of the same seas with the Leviathan.

The grounds upon which Linnaeus would fain have banished the whales from the waters, he states as follows: "On account of their warm bilocular heart, their lungs, their movable eyelids, their hollow ears, penem intrantem feminam mammis lactantem," and finally, "ex lege naturae jure meritoque." I submitted all this to my friends Simeon Macey and Charley Coffin, of Nantucket, both messmates of mine in a certain voyage, and they united in the opinion that the reasons set forth were altogether insufficient. Charley profanely hinted they were humbug.

Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that the whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me.

-- Herman Melville, "Cetology", (Chapter 32 of Moby-Dick)
*By which he means the original sense of the word, debatable.
posted by Herodios at 7:02 AM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, no doubt, Jimbob, that the domain over which that formula held would be limited. I'd have to be either insane or have a limited grasp of math to believe otherwise.

It's just that "In order to operate efficiently, Aeroturbines must be installed at least 40 ft. above the ground (because every 40 ft. the wind speeds tend to double), roof mounted or building attached, above or away from surrounding trees and other obstruction, and in an area with average wind speeds of at least 10 mph" (from aerotecture) made me wonder. It makes a certain amount of sense for some limited domain, but just how damn tall are these towers supposed to be, anyway?

I could begin to see where the height of the tower might begin to cost as much as the turbine itself. I have some small grasp of the economics of solar, but windpower technologies seem to have a lot more, ah, "numeric slack from the PR flacks" in the literature, and it's hard to figure out just where the best bang for your buck is, for a given location.

Sadly, it seems that in my state, solar is "so-so" and wind is almost entirely worthless, unless you're in a particular valley.
posted by adipocere at 7:24 AM on July 13, 2009


[...] I found most of these designs fall in the "meh" and "nothing revolutionary" categories. With the exception of the Windbelt [...]

Someone come up with a witty comments about the Windbelt not being revolutionary. Please? I'm not awake enough to do it myself...
posted by twine42 at 7:35 AM on July 13, 2009


You know, the QR5 is (allegedly) producing 4000kwh-10000kwh over a year in live environments.

That's about 0.45-1.15kwh in an hour (these units really are bollocks, aren't they).

According to the OWL we've got at home, our house averages 0.2kwh when we're doing nothing, pushing 0.5kwh when the computers are on and hitting 2kwh if someone leaves the immersion heater or oven on.

Shame it's clearly aimed above the housing market (£40,000 and a 15m tower? Really?)
posted by twine42 at 7:42 AM on July 13, 2009


Someone come up with a witty comments about the Windbelt not being revolutionary.

I'm afraid you just did it.
posted by Skeptic at 7:50 AM on July 13, 2009


The part I was surprised to learn was that wind speed doubles for every forty feet of elevation (and I'd love to see a good cite for this)

I find that extremely unlikely. That means at 80ft of elevation you have 4x the speed. At 160ft of elevation you have 16x the wind speed. At this rate, modestly tall buildings would be experiencing frequent cyclonic conditions.


Wikuhpedia: Typically, in daytime the variation follows the Wind profile power law, which predicts that wind speed rises proportionally to the seventh root of altitude. Doubling the altitude of a turbine, then, increases the expected wind speeds by 10% and the expected power by 34%. To avoid buckling, doubling the tower height generally requires doubling the diameter of the tower as well, increasing the amount of material by a factor of eight.

I've seen wind turbine farms on three continents (does New Zealand count as a continent?) over four decades and observe that the structures are all generally the same HAWT design (three blades on a pylon) and all about the same size. I'd heard that the efficiency-power-cost-maintenance, etc. numbers simply converged on a very narrow range of size -- ie. smaller => not enough power generated to offset costs, larger => diminishing returns.

Can anyone confirm this, and I wonder what the implication might be for these VAWT and other designs?
posted by Herodios at 7:51 AM on July 13, 2009


But do they gyre and gimble in the wabe?
posted by Western Infidels at 8:42 AM on July 13, 2009


Herodios: The current large scale commercial turbines are all based around the three bladed HAWT model, commonly refered to as the 'Danish concept', since they were developed from the Danish turbines of the 1970s. Though other countries experimented with three (and other) bladed turbines it is possible to draw a pretty straight line from the work done by Danish engineers and environmentalists on the Gedser turbine and later Nibe turbines, through the small commercial turbines of Riisager, to the modern turbines that dominate the sector today. The dominance started with that fact these turbines worked when others did not, though they were a lot heavier than competitor turbines. It is possible to make the argument that this initial advantage allowed them to become the dominant paradigm and as they became more established it became more difficult for anyone to introduce an alternative paradigm even where this might seem to offer eventual efficiency advantages.

An engineer might offer a different story, one of my colleagues suggests that the three bladed HAWT dominates over other HAWTs due to advantages in handling the stress through the blades as they pass in front of the tower, I'm not qualified to comment on this. HAWTs are generally thought superior to VAWTs because VAWTs always have the training blade dragging into the wind.

It is not really accurate to suggest these Danish concept turbines are all the same size, there has been a steady increase in the height and blade length of turbines, and thus of the swept area and pwoer output of the turbines. Riisager initially had 22kW turbines on the market and these gradually scaled up through the 1980s and 1990s, IIRC average turbine capacity increasing by about 75kW annually through the early and mid 1990s, then more rapidly later such that average turbine size is not approaching 2MW. Turbines are now commercially available up to 6MW, with towers over 120metres. There is no definitive answer as to what is the most commercially effective size, there is still an element of horses for courses in terms of fitting turbines to wind conditions and other projects factors (e.g. a recent small farm near me installed two 850kW Vestas V52 turbines as any larger would have meant paying for grid reinforcement which would have been expensive). Public acceptability can also incfluence the size of turbine chosen in many locations.
posted by biffa at 9:10 AM on July 13, 2009


Skeptic : Windbelt ... I must wonder whether it would be possible to upscale it and achieve a high efficiency.

I was thinking the same thing, and that got me considering what one of these, at say, ten meters long would sound like.

I love the idea that kids of the future might understand that power comes from things that emit a low deep growl like a bullroarer.
posted by quin at 9:28 AM on July 13, 2009


adipocere: The part I was surprised to learn was that wind speed doubles for every forty feet of elevation...
Could it be that the rule of thumb you recall was that available wind power doubles for every X units of elevation? It is said that the energy embodied in the wind is proportional to the cube of its speed.

So small differences in wind speed amount to big differences in the energy that can be harvested from it. In the chart Jimbob found, the difference between winds at 30ft and winds at 120ft seem small, but the difference between the cubes of those speeds is big; the 120ft cubes are about double the 30ft cubes, in fact (15^3 = 3375, 18.3^3 = 6128).

And those elevations (30ft and 120ft) are about 30m apart. There are some fragmentary in-passing references on the web to the 30m = double power idea.

Which of course is only going to hold true for a fairly narrow range of altitudes, otherwise there'd be near-infinite power just a couple of kilometers up, and there would be no impending energy crisis.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:30 AM on July 13, 2009


When you look at prices, keep in mind that just buying a wind turbine will not get you any wind-generated electricity. You'll also need most or all of the components mentioned earlier. Also budget for equipment rental, like a backhoe and crane, concrete and rebar, electrical components, shipping, and sales tax. Unless you do all of the work yourself, also factor in installation labor expenses. These costs can add up significantly, so make sure that you research and understand all of the associated expenses before committing to a purchase. Many people are quite surprised to learn that the wind turbine cost can range from only 10 percent to as much as 40 percent of
the entire wind system's expenses.


(Discusses rotors 7ft-56ft in diameter)

Wind Turbine Buyer's Guide, By Mick Sagrillo, Ian Woofenden Jun/Jul 2007 (#119) pp. 34-40, Introductory Level
http://www.homepower.com/article/?file=HP119_pg34_Sagrillo
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:40 AM on July 13, 2009


Thanks, biffa, that's the info I was after.

We recently took a rural detour around Bison, NY and encountered one of the most extensive wind farms I've ever seen. Turns out there's at least 67 up now and another 84 planned.

They're on the highlands overlooking the east end of Lake Erie. Ol' Erie is supposed to a great location for wind power generation. There are plans to put 'em out in the lake (Lake Erie is very shallow) off the shore of Cleveland and environs.

I say, if Nantucket finds wind turbines so very "hideous", then "yes, please, in my backyard thank you very much" (YIMBY).
posted by Herodios at 9:45 AM on July 13, 2009 [1 favorite]



Wind power is dangerous

Here's a funny story - I've been watching the development of these small turbines for a couple of years. My dad has a hunting cabin in northern MN that is off the grid. He runs a Diesel generator and uses wood/propane for heating and cooking.

But the generator is loud. And needs maintenance and fuel and is generally a pain in the ass. He'd like to use some wind turbines to charge the batteries, but they're so expensive compared to the generator. I think it'd be a neat addition to a very quiet, natural setting, and would be a real improvement over the generator.

And now, the township his cabin is in has banned all wind turbine installations of any size within 3/4 mile of any habitable structure in part because of the concerns linked above. So he'll just use his stinky, emissions producing generator instead. WTG environmentalists!
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:50 AM on July 13, 2009


On a complete side note: I am quite amused by the fact that the Whalepower was using Chrono Trigger-like (if not Chrono Trigger music) for its advertisement. It was rather amusing to suddenly hear themes from the game I used to play and re-play almost religiously.

Otherwise: This seems cool, but as pointed out earlier...article flaws.
posted by lizarrd at 12:18 PM on July 13, 2009


"I love that Wind Belt!"

Thanks for that link, Chuckles. The Wind Belt sounds very interesting, and potentially awesome. According to that website, you could use "Micro" wind belts to power wireless sensors on buildings and bridges and the like, making a whole new world of realtime data available to scientists and engineers. And "Medium" size wind belts could power things like wifi routers and maybe streetlights. Just imagine how much carbon we could save if our vast highway and city lighting systems were powered by the wind!
posted by Kevin Street at 9:31 PM on July 13, 2009


Just imagine how much carbon we could save if our vast highway and city lighting systems were powered by the wind!

I think streetlights should be connected to a more steady electricity supply don't you?
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:28 AM on July 14, 2009


I don't know, just put a battery on each one. It might not work everywhere, but most places have at least a modicum of wind, which might be enough to keep the battery continuously charged. It's the sort of thing that shoudl be worth an experiment or two, at least.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:46 PM on July 14, 2009


I don't know, just put a battery on each one.

That isn't such a great idea :P Distributed generation is great, but.. Grid connection is by far the best solution in any built up area. No reason not to have grid connected distributed generation, of course, except power companies protecting vested interests.
posted by Chuckles at 4:57 PM on July 14, 2009


I don't know nuthin' 'bout aerodynamics or wind tubines, but I do know an elegant design when I see it, and when I saw the Wind Belt design, I had to pause a for a moment and wonder why it's taken so long for someone to think of it.
posted by lekvar at 4:59 PM on July 14, 2009


"That isn't such a great idea :P Distributed generation is great, but.. Grid connection is by far the best solution in any built up area."

Okay, I concede that you're right. But just for the sake of learning something new, why is this so? Is it cheaper to connect everything up to an electrical grid?
posted by Kevin Street at 6:06 PM on July 14, 2009


Batteries are really ridiculously expensive, and they have a very limited lifespan. Many battery technologies are also fairly inefficient coulometrically--you don't get as much energy out as you put in.

On the other hand, grid connection on the use end has been figured out backwards and forwards and is really very easy, cheap, and reliable. Grid connection on the generation end has traditionally been quite difficult, but in the last 10-20 years, switch mode power conversion has caused a revolution that is not that much less significant than the whole Moore's Law CPU power thing--nowadays you can convert almost any voltage to any other voltage, AC or DC, for not very much money and at pretty good efficiency. Interestingly, even in switching power converters, it is the energy storage elements that cost all the money.

Maybe somebody else can make a more thorough explanation..
posted by Chuckles at 6:22 PM on July 14, 2009


No, that's great! Thank you, Chuckles. So this switch mode power conversion sounds like a very good thing, since it makes it easier to connect generators to the grid. Interesting.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:27 PM on July 14, 2009


Ome of my students did a project on the potential for installing micro wind turbines om lampposts, I'll see if I can get hold of his conclusions. The advantage of doing this is that you reduce some of the capital costs because you're already paying for the post and that the posts are grid connected already, I agree they wouldn't be an ideal solution for offgrid posts. Things to get right ongrid would be whether the posts can deal with the stresses associated with the turbines, operation of the lamps with intermittent local input and feeding into the grid during daylight hours.
posted by biffa at 4:56 AM on July 15, 2009


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