We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

Green Energy: Electricity From Wind

Oooh, I want one so bad!! A windmill, or wind turbine, that is. And not just any wind turbine, I want a vertical axis wind turbine. I want to generate green energy, or electricity, from wind.

After we installed a solar array to generate about 7.5kW/day I got to thinking that we were missing some valuable energy production time by not having a wind turbine. A that time the guy who installed the photo voltaic array told us we weren't good candidates for wind energy. Huh? It seems to me the wind blows all the time here. How could we not be good candidates?

His reply was that the wind we get is erratic, going from nothing to 14mph, down to 5mph and up to 35 mph. Traditional wind turbines need higher wind speeds to efficiently generate electricity, and don't deal well with gusts and wind shears like we tend to get around here.

In my heart I knew there had to be a better way. The west was tamed with the help of windmills. How, in the age of improved technology, couldn't there be a better deal than there was over 100 years ago?

Turns out there is. I first saw and appreciated the brilliance of a vertical axis wind turbine at a greening of the hotel industry meeting several years ago. An architect was sharing his energy-conserving design for a building he had just built. Not only did he employ a green wall on the south side of the structure to create shade for the building, a very cool concept -- if you'll excuse the pun, but also he had a wind turbine.

The way he placed the wind turbine was part of the cleverness of the arrangement. He had turbines placed at the corners of the buildings in what looked like stairwells, sticking above the roof line. The "stair well" housing the turbine was open on the roof side so that not only did the turbine catch blowing wind, but also wind "bouncing" off the roof. How cool is that?! Very.

I came right home and tried researching a vertical axis wind turbine so I could sell My Bigger Half on getting one for his office space. It was challenging to find enough information to share with him on the subject, much less to get him excited about it. I found a short video clip (linked below) of Jay Leno installing one on his garage warehouse in Burbank, and one or two manufacturers, and a few DIY models, but that was about it.

But today there is lots of information. Yaahooo! Now there are several videos of different vertical axis wind turbines, lots of manufacturers, and various wiki entries about them.

Here are a few of the ideas that appeal to me.

The Gale Wind Turbine
The Helix Wind TurbineHelix-Vertical Axis Wind Turbine
The Windspire Wind TurbineVertical Axis Wind Turbine Spire

The past few days I so wish we had wind energy going at the house, it's been too windy for anything but generating electricity! I bet we could avoid paying any electric bill if we hand a wind turbine at My Bigger Half's office. One day we'll have one and I'll be so happy about it.

Wind energy sure beats oil spills!

Here are just a few of the links I have found. Maybe you'll get as excited about this energy option as I am.
Alternative Energy Tangarie wind turbines.

The Energy Blog article on vertical axis wind turbine

Jay Leno Interview and video about Maglev Wind Turbine.

Video of a big (12 kW) turbine on Jay Leno's garage



Video of a Helix style wind turbine.


Comments

This is more significant with large wind farms than single-property windmills, but one thing to be careful of with harnessing wind energy is to make sure that you aren't messing up the habitat of your local airborne critters. Wind farms that were placed with only an eye to airflow and none to habitats have done some serious damage to certain bird and bat populations due to being placed in prime flying space such as migration routes. Apparently, it is hard for animals to identify the moving vanes of a windmill, and when they try to fly through that space, they get either beaten to death or shredded, depending on the vane speed and design. :-( Also, the air vibration can mess up Bats' echolation, again, depending on the speed and design. I have seen some interesting theories about adapting the techniques planes use to warn birds away from jet engines for use on wind farms to warn them away from the windmills, but I don't know of any large-scale uses. Given the heavy emphasis on the eco-appeal of wind farms, I suspect there is a strong push to suppress bad press about their affect on wildlife when they aren't planned well.

On a residential scale, I would think the main concerns would be to watch the animals in your immediate environment, and make certain you are not placing your windmill in any prime flying lanes or in a spot that would make it look like a good place to perch. If you aren't too worried about a mild modification of natural behavior, an owl carving to keep birds away might be a good topper for your windmill. :-)

I very much enjoy both your blog and your Bigger Half's publications- keep it up, both of you!

Firefairy at June 7, 2010 11:55 PM

Firefairy,

I'm not one who is enamored of wind farms, partially for what you shared here. And partially because of a gut-level sense that's not the route to go. Just because the land "ideal" for wind farms looks unused to us, the people wanting the electricity, doesn't mean it's unused by wildlife and the planet.

Line losses need to be considered when generating electricity far from its point of use. We do things like that to create a sterile environment for ourselves -- we don't want to see the ugly side of the choices we make -- and that furthers the environmental problems we face today.

I'm sure that even the vertical axis turbines present some amount of danger, or at least challenge, to wildlife, but not nearly like the behemoth turbines found in wind farms.

Thanks for your comments. We really love what we do, and hope it makes a difference to our readers.

-Kit

Kit Cassingham at June 8, 2010 11:16 AM

Kit,

I like the idea of Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWT), but they are inherently less efficient than Horizontal Axis (HAWT) units. The fact that they don't have to "chase" the wind gives them a bit of a reprieve in that context.

No wind turbine can ever extract more than ~59.3% of the energy in the wind stream. This is called the "Betz Limit" and was first postulated by Alfred Betz in 1920.

Personally, I believe that renewable energy sources such as PV and wind are best suited for distributed generation, i.e. powering just one house or a couple buildings on a farm.

Wind farms and mega-scale PV installations are, in their own way, a form of pollution; destroying hundreds of acres of desert land (in the case of the proposed PV install in the high desert of CA) or covering huge ridge tops or plateaus (wind farms).

I don't believe that we know enough about the long-term effects of thousands of wind turbines removing 40% or so of the energy from the windstream. I'm not really convinced that it's a good idea to cover vast areas of the country with these units.

Don't misunderstand. I design and build RE power systems, but only for small off-grid homes and emergency communications use. These systems provide a valuable service and have a very small ecological footprint.

73,
ldb
K5WLF

ldb at June 28, 2010 9:38 PM

Idb,

I totally agree with you about not polluting the earth with acres of wind or solar installations. I too think they are best for individual buildings are clusters of them.

I know VATW aren't as efficient as I'd like, but they are *part* of the solution, not the complete solution. Solar isn't as efficient as I'd like either, but again it's part of the solution.

When you consider petroleum's footprint, I suspect it's not as efficient as we think it is either. And what a mess it makes! I'll take a less efficient windmill over an oil spew any day.

Thanks, Idb!

-Kit
(and 73, K0KIT)

Kit Cassingham at June 28, 2010 9:52 PM

Oh, very cool! A reader sent me a couple of links for businesses going green.

1. http://www.devonbank.com/wheeling_green.html
2. http://windspireenergy.com/

Thanks, David!


-Kit

Kit Cassingham at June 29, 2010 5:37 PM

When I was looking for pictures to add to this article I came across this informative article from . This article shows me that no matter how much I love the concept of this type of wind turbine, it's not as efficient and therefore as cost effective as the traditional horizontal axis wind turbine.

But I can still dream of a great wind alternative for us. And I will.

-Kit

Kit Cassingham at September 20, 2010 6:42 PM
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