Micro wind turbines: another big headache for big oil | RenewEconomy

Micro wind turbines: another big headache for big oil

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Oil companies in the US have been retrenching as the market goes into free-fall, and the survivors will face some stiff — and unprecedented — competition.

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Oil companies in the US have been retrenching as the market goes into free-fall, but when the dust settles and prices begin their inevitable upward climb the survivors will face some stiff — and unprecedented — competition. Among other factors, the US wind industry is on the verge of breaking through into new territory. Utility scale offshore wind energy is the obvious place to watch, but we’re also interested in the role that micro wind turbines could play.

To clarify, we’re thinking that as a standalone source micro wind probably wouldn’t cut it. The idea is to look at micro wind turbines in the context of a national distributed wind energy strategy.

Distributed wind energy system including micro wind turbines (screenshot, courtesy of US DOE).

Micro Wind Turbines And Distributed Wind Energy

For those of you new to the topic, the Energy Department’s Wind Program defines distributed wind in terms of application. If a turbine is located fairly close to the point of use, and is either off-grid or connected directly to a local distribution grid, then it fits the distributed wind energy mold.

Although distributed wind energy strategies could include anything from 5 kilowatts on up to utility scale turbines, the Energy Department is focusing its grant dollars for distributed wind on the small/micro wind turbine sector.

In contrast to utility scale wind farms, which take up a lot of space and typically require long transmission lines, distributed wind turbines can be scaled down to individual markets including agricultural operations, industry, commercial facilities, academic institutions, and a lot more. All else being equal in terms of site selection, the possibilities are practically limitless for micro wind application.

In the “more” category, take a look at the way that professional sports franchises are using micro wind turbines, and you’ll see what direction we’re heading in. Aside from generating clean power, the eye-catching turbines ringing the top of a stadium add a shimmer of luster to the brand. The Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills provide a couple of examples.

Last month, Ford took the brand luster approach to the next level by installing “Windy System” vertical-axis micro wind turbines at four selected dealerships. The sail-type turbines, from the company Wind Energy, sport the Ford logo so they double as kinetic signboards.

An air enabled sign (image courtesy of Wind Energy).

In other words, in the micro wind market you don’t have to focus strictly on technology that gives you the biggest bang for your buck. You can also focus on aesthetics and brand identification.

When you consider the other types of air-enabled signs out there…

Another air enabled sign (image cropped, by Valerie Hinojosa via flickr.com, cc license).

…you can see the attraction of micro wind turbines beyond their more practical uses.

Micro Wind Turbines And Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Although micro wind has taken its share of criticism on a cost-per-kilowatt basis, back in the early days of the Bush Administration the US wind industry worked with the Energy Department to lay out the “U.S. Small Wind Turbine Industry Roadmap.” At the time, the US micro wind industry was a global leader, and the aim was to keep it that way.

Unfortunately, as global micro wind competition has heated up (here’s a recent example), support for the domestic wind industry has been facing some stiff political opposition.

You can round up the usual (primarily Republican) suspects for that, with the notable exception of several state governors and longtime wind champion Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.

Last week, Grassley co-signed a letter in support of distributed wind energy and micro wind turbines along with lead signer Al Franken (D-MN), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Tim Johnson (D-SD). Here’s the meat:

It’s a brief letter so go ahead and read the whole thing, but for those of you on the go here’s the part that presents a case for the Energy Department to allocate $6. 4 million to continue developing technology, performance, permitting, financing, and interconnection systems to push for rapid commercialization:

…The result would be thousands of new jobs and increased local economic development across the nation…Distributed wind systems have exceptionally high domestic content-exceeding 90 percent-and the broadly dispersed nature of this technology, in terms of applications, manufacturers, and installers, means that the expansion of distributed wind will create jobs and stimulate local economies in nearly every region of the country.

So, what do you think? Is the time ripe for micro wind turbines? Even with oil prices crashing off the cliff, we’re seeing indications of stagnating demand for oil as more renewable energy and energy efficiency technology enters the US marketplace, and micro wind could play a part in that scenario.

That doesn’t mean we’re off the hook in terms of the risks and impacts of oil extraction (and, for that matter, transportation) — it just means the US oil industry will have to seek new markets overseas when it emerges from the bust.

Stay tuned.


Source: CleanTechnica. Reproduced with permission.

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  1. Alan Baird 5 years ago

    Those vertical axis turbines are very interesting. The wind blows too hard and they just keep generating with a sort of “self-feathering” action. Such a small space needed too.

    • John P 5 years ago

      VAWTs are interesting and even elegant in many cases. The trouble is, they don’t generally work. Electrical power is a function of rotational speed. VAWT machines are limited in the rotational speed they can develop as they are generally too large in radius. Reducing the radius also reduces the ‘cross section’ they present to the wind and so the available energy is is also reduced to the point that the whole thing is pointless.

  2. Ruben 5 years ago

    Call me a pessimist, but every single study that I’ve seen about micro turbines has fallen well short of the mark.
    I don’t think that they will ever be able to compete with their larger cousins or solar.

    • John P 5 years ago

      Micro turbines work well enough as long as they are horizontal axis types. Vertical axis rotors are rare because of issues with angular momentum. In the event, solar is generally better anyway.

      • Pied 5 years ago

        What a statement. No they don’t work well enough. I have been involved in micro wind for 20 years, so I do have a modicum of knowledge on the subject, They had their place in certain applications when solar was 6 bucks a watt, not anymore.

        • patb2009 5 years ago

          HAWT seems to be the way to go, but, i could see VAWT gaining a worthwhile niche in places where packaging is a concern or as an “Active Sign”….. If i could sell these to barber shops as “Signs and money”, it might work….

          • Pied 5 years ago

            No it won’t, this has been proven time and time again. It aint the turbine its the wind resource. When you double the wind speed you cube the energy. Why do you think the large wind farms sit atop hills on bloody big towers. In Australia the wind resource is up in the air not sitting on someones rooftop. Ive had people ring me saying that have a wonderful wind resource “it gets bloody windy around here. I then ask “Imagine driving down the road at 60kmH, stick your head out the window, is it like that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?” Thought not, you have a crap wind resource.

        • John P 5 years ago

          My HAWT (micro) ‘works well enough’ when there is adequate wind. That’s where the trouble lies. The sun comes up every day but the wind may fail to appear for days at a time. Hence my remark about solar being generally better.

  3. Fran Rametta 5 years ago

    It would be great to add micro wind turbines into the mix of renewables that are necessary to create new jobs and a sustainable economy.

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