Why the future of wind power looks better and better

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.

6 thoughts on “Why the future of wind power looks better and better”

  1. And that’s just for the surface turbines. Within 10 years time I hope that a good chunk of new wind turbines will be airborne. If that happens, the limitations of wind energy will be blown away.

  2. I read an interesting blurb about cycling Lithium car batteries through wind power buffering stations prior to recyling them. So they do their 100K miles in the car, then go to wind buffering for a period of time, then to recycle when they are completely out of life. The battery lease from the energy producer helps offset the terrible cost of producing the new batteries for cars. Sounded cool. All you here probably know all about that. I’m just passing through. If a miracle happens and Eestor actually produces, all this is academic. Game over for all other storage mediums and for the internal combustion engine in automobiles.

  3. I don’t think so; even if Eestor has short term succes, the energy storage market is quantitatively huge, so even with amazing growth rates it would take quite some time for Eestor to dominate. Plus there are different requirements for different types of energy storage. For example, a solar thermal plant can get cheaper with low cost thermal storage; even Eestor can’t compete with negative costs!

    Although in this respect Eestor says they have all the cards: energy density, cost, cycling, materials abundance, etc. If they are for real, which is still unclear to me at least.

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