The far flung village of Igiugig in Alaska is inhabited by only around 50 people. Here, inventors of a new approach to wind power, the small vertical-axis wind turbines, will demonstrate for the first time that a vertical axis wind turbine can generate increased wind power and make it less expensive.
In the wind industry, the trend in the past is to produce bigger and bigger wind turbines to improve its efficiency and make power cheaper. This is before a Caltech professor of bioengineering and aeronautical named John Dabiri had an unorthodox brainchild. He believes that using small vertical- axis wind turbines is the best means to reduce the cost of wind power. These vertical-axis turbines will require computer models to modify and perfect the turbines’ assembly in a wind farm to make each turbine enhance or increase the output of the turbine next to it.
An experiment to demonstrate the basic idea was conducted by Dabiri in a 24-turbine area in southern California. With grants from the US Department and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation of $6 million, Dabiri will be able to expand the experiment to Igiugig and determine if the new method can reduce the cost of wind power. This year, 10 turbines are scheduled for installation. From 50 to 70 wind turbines are targeted for installation in due course that will generate approximately the same amount of power produced by the diesel generators being used in the village. Another project of Dabiri is to install vertical-axis wind turbines in between existing ones in an operational wind farm in Palm Springs, California.
As a rule, as wind goes through and around a wind turbine, wind creates turbulence that pummels the turbine coming after it that diminishes its output and hasten its wear and tear. According to Dabiri, vertical-axis wind turbines churn out an aftershock that’s advantageous to other turbines as long as they are arranged correctly.
The blades of this wind turbine are positioned perpendicularly like posts of a carousel and not like spokes or spines of a wheel like that of a typical wind turbine. Wind passing through and around a vertical-axis wind turbine accelerates and the horizontal positioning of the blades of the wind turbine coming after it allows it to successfully capture the wind and accelerate and produce more power. The arrangement and layout allow for more turbines to be installed onto a space or plot of land.
The vertical-axis wind turbine is 10 meters in height and produces from 3Kw to 5Kw of electricity in contrast to the towering, multi-megawatt turbines in conventional wind farms. Dabiri says the smaller vertical-axis wind turbines are easier to produce and are less expensive than ordinary ones when mass produced. Dabiri also says that maintaining his wind turbines could also be less costly since the generator is positioned on the ground for easy access and not on top of a 100-meter tower. The experiment in Igiugig will verify if Dabiri’s maintenance cost calculations are correct.
Other advantages of Dabiri’s wind turbines according to the inventor are less noise pollution and the elimination of the danger of it killing birds, the main objections of many communities to the conventional wind turbine. The fact that these wind turbines are shorter and, therefore, present lesser interference to radars and helicopter flights attracted a $1 million grant for a study of their use on military bases from the Department of Defense.
The new style of turbines, however, is being challenged by other wind power proponents. One such challenger is Fort Felker, the National Wind Technology Center director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. According to Felker vertical-axis turbines are less efficient than conventional turbines since half of the time the horizontal blades move counter to the wind instead of creating the lift required to spin a generator. As the blades alternately catch the wind and move counter to it, they cause the hastening of the structure’s wear and tear. According to Dabiri, he and other Princeton University researchers are exerting efforts to improve the design of the turbine to deal with these issues.
Felker observes that Dabiri’s method will need the installation of wind turbines a thousand times over. This will require millions of wind turbines instead of thousands to produce wind power that will create a considerable dent in the power supply of America. He added that in the last decades, it has been demonstrated by the wind industry that crafting ever bigger wind turbines reduces costs, and a move deviating from this course will not be successful. For Felker, the Dabiri approach could be suitable for small, remote villages such as Igiugig where uncomplicated assembly and maintenance could be of prime importance but to transform the total energy landscape going big is what is needed.