My Clean Break column today takes a look at a few startups that are trying to make wind farms more reliable and productive. Most of the companies I’ve mentioned in the past — Whalepower (blade design that mimics humpback whale flippers); Premium Power (utility-scale zinc-bromide battery storage cheap enough to couple with wind turbines/farms); and Catch The Wind (LIDAR adapted for integration into wind turbines). In the column I also discuss Vancouver-based ExRo Technologies, which has developed a new kind of generator with a built-in electronic transmission rather than an external mechanical transmission. This is a potentially game-changing innovation.
ExRo says its technology can dramatically improve the efficiency of turbines because its unique design allows the generator to adapt more quickly to changing wind conditions and tap a wider range of wind speeds. In addition to my column, you can find more detailed explanation of ExRo’s technology at Greentech Media and Technology Review.
And let’s not forget the potential of hydraulic wind-energy storage, or EEStor’s EESU and its massive potential for storing wind energy. “We’re talking to people very seriously about that,” says EEStor co-founder and CEO Dick Weir.
Oh, and I should also give a brief update on what Thane Heins is doing and its potential benefit to wind-turbine generators. You’ll recall that Heins’ company, Potential Difference Inc., says it has come up with a way to eliminate Back EMF in a generator that acts as a source of magnetic friction and reduces the generator’s efficiency. Eliminate the Back EMF and you get more output from the generator — theoretically. Heins’ has signed (or is close to signing) a licensing agreement with Montreal-based Tesnic Inc., a startup developer of small vertical-axis wind turbines. If Heins’ approach does eliminate the Back EMF, it will allow the turbine to operate at much lower wind speeds because the magnetic resistance will be eliminated. “I don’t have any comment at this point in time… it’s too premature at this time,” said Tesnic founder Horia Nica when contacted by phone.
I’m mentioning all this stuff because I think it’s important to remember that the renewable technologies we see being deployed today aren’t necessarily representative of what we’ll see, say, in 10 years. People seem to appreciate this point more with solar technologies, but not with wind — that is, it’s just a big windmill, right? For all the limitations of wind energy, mostly related to its intermittency, the technology behind it can and will significantly improve. As it does, it will hopefully silence more of the anti-wind folks and inspire electricity system planners who, to date, have approached wind with a skeptical eye.