Six Innovative Wind Turbine Designs

By Cat DiStasio

The International Energy Association (IEA) announced last week that renewable energy capacity around the globe has eclipsed coal power for the first time ever. Wind power makes up a large percentage of global renewable energy, and with all the recent technological innovations in wind turbine design, it’s no mystery that it’s become the fastest-growing form of clean energy. With refined technology, engineers have developed new devices that are more efficient and safer for birds. Some wind turbines can even generate energy while the air is still.

The World’s First Typhoon Turbine

The world’s first typhoon turbine was invented by Atsushi Shimizu to tap into the massive amounts of energy contained within storms common to his homeland of Japan. He estimates the energy stored in one typhoon could power the nation for 50 years, if only it could be harnessed. Shimizu’s egg beater-like contraption is a vertical-axis Magnus wind power generator robust enough to withstand the high winds of a typhoon. Tests conducted using a scale model of the wind energy generator have been promising, and Shimizu is on a mission to connect with investors to help build larger practical versions in the hopes of one day feeding typhoon power into the nation’s grid.

A Hybrid Wind-Hydro Turbine

How does a wind turbine generate electricity when there’s no breeze? Typical turbines simply can’t, but a new project from Max Bögl Wind AG and GE Renewable Energy pairs traditional bladed turbines with hydropower technology for the world’s first hybrid wind-hydro energy generator. Set to be located in Germany’s Swabian-Franconian Forest, the project will initially feature four wind turbines with a capacity of 13.6 megawatts. The first phase is slated to connect to the grid next year, and the second phase will add a 16MW hydroelectric power plant, expected to be completed in 2018.

Helium-Filled Floating Wind Turbines

While most wind energy projects are firmly rooted in the ground or at sea, some recent innovations are putting turbines high in the sky, where wind moves fastest. The world’s first airborne wind turbine launched in 2014 over Fairbanks, Alaska. Held aloft by helium like a giant cylindrical blimp, the BAT-Buoyant Airborne Turbine was designed and built by MIT startup Altaeros Energies to float 1,000 feet in the air and capture wind currents five to eight times more powerful than the breezes at ground level. The 18-month experiment generated enough energy to power a dozen households. Because of their sky-high positioning, BAT systems can also also transmit WiFi and cell signals, and double as weather sensors.

The Vortex Bladeless Wind Turbine

Bird safety is a big issue in the world of wind turbines. In order to reduce the danger for our flying feathered friends, engineers created the Vortex Bladeless wind energy generator, which is shaped like a tall, thin straw rather than having large rotating blades. The device harvests energy from swirling vortices in moving air, and since the bladeless wind energy generators are tall and thin, several of them can be installed in the space that a single blade turbine takes up. Its creators say the Vortex Bladeless cuts manufacturing costs by 53 percent and maintenance costs by as much as 80 percent compared to traditional turbines, and it has a smaller carbon footprint too.

SheerWind’s INVELOX Wind Tunnel Tower

This innovative wind turbine is capable of producing 600 times more energy than conventional windmills. The SheerWind Invelox turbine is a tunnel-based wind energy generator that harnesses breezes at ground level and funnels them inward, accelerating the air’s speed. The Invelox generator can function even in low-wind conditions and, since it has no external blades rotating at high speeds, it doesn’t endanger local wildlife. It’s also less expensive to build than traditional wind turbines.

Bird-friendly Catching Wind Power

One of the oldest designs in this roundup was created by an 89-year-old military veteran who is also a bird lover. In 2012, Raymond Green designed the Catching Wind Power generator, which funnels wind currents with what looks like a giant megaphone and then compresses the incoming air in order to create more power at the turbine within. There are no external moving parts to pose a threat to birds or bats, though, making Catching Wind Power a lot safer than traditional designs. Green designed the system to be scaleable, hoping that both residential and industrial installations can generate renewable energy without endangering birds.


Are Solar Panels Still a Good Investment for Homeowners?

sunstars enterprises

sunstars enterprises

Unless you are lucky enough to live in a hot climate, there is likely to be a question mark hanging over solar panels. Green energy firms are still marketing Photovoltaic solar panels. They claim you can save a fortune on your energy bill and generate an income from any extra electricity you generate, but is this true, or are solar panels no longer worth the upfront cost?

Find an Installer

Solar panel installation is typically carried out by a specialist installer, although you may find one or two local Plentific builders who can help with a solar installation. To find a specialist installer, check local listings or consult a website such as Plentific, where you select the service you need and post a job.

Not all homeowners can have solar panels installed on their roof. Ideally you need a south facing roof, but you can still generate electricity if the roof faces south-west. Solar is also unsuitable if your roof is heavily shaded by large trees or taller properties. How far south you live also has an effect. Homes to the far north of Scotland get less daylight than homes in the south, so bear this in mind.

Homes in the UK need an energy performance certificate before solar panels are installed. A property needs to be rated D and above to qualify for the full feed-in tariff. If your home is rated E and below, it isn’t worth installing solar unless you make essential improvements to raise the rating up to D or above.

How Solar Saves You Cash

Solar panels save you money in three different ways.

Firstly, any energy generated by your solar panels is “free”, so when the panels are generating, it doesn’t cost you a thing to run a washing machine or tumble drier. So on a bright day, you can launder as much washing as you like for free.

Secondly, the government pays homeowners for any electricity they generate from solar panels, which is known as a “feed-in tariff”. This rate was originally quite high, but it has been significantly reduced as of this year. Any money you do make is paid quarterly and is tax-free.

Thirdly, you can sell excess energy back to the National Grid at a pre-set rate. This will earn you a small amount per year.

Are Solar Panels Worth It?

Installing solar panels is a high up-front cost, so regardless of any savings you make on your energy bill and any money you earn from the feed-in tariff it will take many years to break even. However, if you are planning to stay in your property for at least 15 years, you will end up saving money overall. How much will depend on a number of variables, including where you live and how much energy you generate.

The last thing to consider is whether installing solar panels is going to affect the value of your home. Ugly panels are not a selling point, but an energy efficient home certainly is, particularly if a new buyer can benefit from the feed-in tariff.

Sponsored Guest Post

Could Renewable Energy Business Win Out in Trump’s Climate Policy?

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump famously called climate change a ‘hoax.’ But the increasing economic viability of alternative energies, plus the ability to keep jobs at home, may prompt him to reconsider.

Solar installers from Baker Electric place solar panels on the roof of a residential home in Scripps Ranch, San Diego, Calif. Mike Blake/Reuters/File

Solar installers from Baker Electric place solar panels on the roof of a residential home in Scripps Ranch, San Diego, Calif. Mike Blake/Reuters/File

Given Donald Trump’s remarks on the campaign trail, many are concerned that his administration will jeopardize the climate progress made under President Obama.

President-elect Trump famously called climate change a “hoax,” and vowed to back out of the Paris Agreement, where the world’s nations came together and agreed to curb their emissions. His recently released “Energy independence” policy calls for the elimination of numerous environmental regulations and increased exploitation of coal, oil, and natural gas.

In light of all this, former Vice President Al Gore’s offer to work with Mr. Trump on climate issues – writing that “I hope that he will work with the overwhelming majority of us who believe that the climate crisis is the greatest threat we face as a nation” – has been derided by some  as naive.

However, as Mr. Gore noted, there are strong business imperatives to expand renewable energy – and Trump is a businessman. Profitable renewable energy might provide a much-needed area of consensus with a business-oriented Republican Congress. It could also help Trump live up to his populist message, by keeping jobs at home and energy costs down.

“The work that has been done by civil society, businesses, investors, and governments at all levels will continue to be driven by the fact that solutions to the climate crisis are not just vital to our planet, but are vital to our economy,” wrote Gore in a blog post on his Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit he founded in 2011. “The market forces driving the transition to a sustainable economy simply will not be slowed.”

Trump’s opposition to environmental issues could be significant on a global level, as The Christian Science Monitor reported on Wednesday. With or without the Paris agreement, which went into force last week, “he can certainly withdraw US leadership on climate action – with repercussions for both US carbon emissions and international momentum on the issue.”

But even if that support is withdrawn, increasing the use of renewable energies could reduce US carbon emissions. It’s a step that makes increasing economic sense, as well, with renewable energy sources falling in the middle of the range in terms of cost – and go down after installation, because, unlike traditional sources, solar and wind do not cost anything. Everyone from Bill Gates to Elon Musk has invested in the industry, suggesting that it is not only a safe economic bet, but has huge potential for growth.

And renewable energy could be made to fit with Trump’s populist message, helping to target rising energy costs, which he highlights in his “Energy independence” policy, and keeping manufacturing and construction jobs at home. One report estimated that expanding clean energy investments could  add 2.7 million jobs to the US economy.

And, divisive as “climate change” has proven, Americans overwhelmingly agree that they want more renewable energy. In a Pew survey released in October, 89 percent of respondents wanted more solar farms, while 83 percent viewed more wind turbines favorably.

“America will unleash an energy revolution that will transform us into a net energy exporter, leading to the creation of millions of new jobs,” Trump’s website promises. It remains to be seen if there is room for green energy in that revolution, too.


Cortez Council Approves Solar Panels for New City Hall

Project will be part of new City Hall

BCSEA Webinar: Solar Heat Pumps: An Opportunity for Net Zero Homes?

Join BCSEA for the next webinar in its exciting free series, Solar Heat Pumps: The Key to Zero Energy Homes?, on November 22nd from 12 – 1pm PST.

An incredible amount of energy is used to heat homes across Canada. Canada’s
households use roughly 450 percent more energy to heat their homes than to power them. In order to achieve a 100 percent clean energy future and develop truly “zero energy” homes, we must address the need for a renewable source of heating.

In this webinar, Bruce Gray, Technical Director of the Canadian Solar Heat Pump Institute, will introduce an innovative hybrid of solar heating and heat pump technology and a potential solution to the renewable heating problem, the Solar Heat Pump. Bruce brings his experience of renewable heating as an LEED Certified professional and energy designer to inform and educate on the subject of solar heat pumps; what they are, how they have been developed and what potential they have as a source of renewable heating in British Columbia.

The webinar will consist of a 25 minute presentation and a 25 minute Q&A. The webinar is free to attend, all you have to do is register.

The BCSEA is continuing to work hard on behalf of its members to bring about a clean, sustainable future for BC, while also providing unique opportunities for members to learn and contribute to the discussion. We encourage everyone to participate in our live webinars, and the recordings are available any time to its members.