Upgrading The Wind

on October 25, 2011 at 6:00 AM

In the era before steam power, wind was one of the world’s preeminent energy resources, and new technologies for capturing its accelerating power drove the rise of seafaring nations and commercial powerhouses.

If an experiment currently underway in Ohio goes well, wind could be poised for a full-scale comeback as an energy source.

“Wind is low energy-density,” Dr. Majid Rashidi of Cleveland State University told Breaking Energy last week, and the utility scale solution of building ever-larger blades is reaching its natural and structural limitations. The solution may be to get more out of the wind itself.

As wind accelerates in speed, the power it conveys grows geometrically, so that a doubling in wind speed results in eight times the amount of power. Anyone who has walked around a city on a windy day can testify to the effect of funneling wind to increase its speed; Dr Rashidi says new turbines could be designed to replicate the effect on a smaller scale, creating a method of distributed wind-powered generation that wouldn’t require gale force weather to generate meaningful amounts of electricity.

Building on six years of work in labs at Cleveland State and a successful prototype, as well as wind-acceleration efforts begun by Department of Energy-funded scientists as far back as the mid-1970s, Dr Rashidi’s team is about to install a second, advanced prototype at Cleveland Indians baseball stadium.

The sports business is leveraging its high public profile to tout renewable energy investments in the US and abroad. Read more here.

The units are too small to contribute much to the vast electricity requirements of a baseball stadium, Rashidi said, but their presence should help build awareness about the wind technology work underway at CSU.

“Right now we are just operating in the world of research,” Rashidi said, and after installation is complete in March 2012 the team is looking forward to 9-12 months of data collection.

The new wind turbines look more like cylinders than traditional blades with towers, and spiral wind through funnels to accelerate the speed at which the wind rotates the turbine, Rashidi said. An early table-top model verified initial computer-driven tests, and the second set of tests on a simpler rooftop cylinder also showed strong performance with the new Cleveland Indians stadium installation the third trial.

Widespread use of the new turbines remains a distant prospect subject to significant cost compression, Rashidi said. The current small turbines the project uses cost as much as $10,000, putting them out of competition with domestic gas generators that have an initial cost of $500, even though with the wind turbine there are no fuel costs.

Read more of Breaking Energy’s comprehensive wind energy coverage, and about domestic-scale distributed wind generation and its challenges.