Converting the energy from wind to electricity is a huge mechatronic challenge. Lots of backyard inventors are trying their hands at it. At the end of the day, it will come down to what works economically.
The issue is that you have to convert the kinetic energy of the wind, which is very low depending on where you are, into enough mechanical energy to turn something that will turn a generator. Sounds simple, and it is, up to a point.
The wind part can be thought of in Watts per Square Meter of energy. So we have to come up with something that has very large surface area and very light weight. Sailing technology comes to mind. And there is a huge range of efficiency based on aerodynamics, which is why there is so much effort around blade design in the current generation of wind turbines.
But at energy levels of 150 W/m**2, it takes a lot of square meters to hit enough energy to be useful. If you are thinking “small wind” for residential applications 2000-3000 watts peak power would require 20 square meters of surface area. That could be a rotor just over ten feet in diameter by eighteen feet tall. That is a very large mechanical structure for a residential building. And not easy to support securely against high winds.
2000 to 3000 Watts of intermittent power might displace half your power bill during the year if the wind blows a lot. If not, maybe 1/4 of your annual power bill if you don’t get a lot of wind. So you still need the power company unless you make the turbine 4 times bigger.
And the product cannot cost more than you are paying presently for the electricity. In states like New Jersey, New York or California where electricity costs are high, that might amount to $1500 if the value is for part of the annual power used. In states where electricity costs are 11 cents/kWh, its really not worth it.
Land based wind farms have not done very well so far. Think about the complexity of building gearboxes at the megawatt level that have to withstand sudden changes in wind conditions. It’s nothing like the industrial world. Historical costs of operation and maintenance (O&M) are being reported at 20 and 30% due to premature failure of gearboxes, electrical systems catching fire, blades breaking due to control system failures. The list goes on.
So Wind Power still stands as a major mechatronic challenge.
What is the proper role of the government in the wind energy business? President Obama says he is committed to promoting wind energy in this country. Wind Energy will bring jobs to America. Well, maybe for some of the construction guys. So far, a significant amount of wind turbines sold in the US come from foreign suppliers. And even for domestic wind turbines, a lot of the parts come from offshore suppliers.
If you look at all the new bureaucracy being created, well, it will be amazing if anything ever gets done. The newly formed Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement has been created to oversee the sale of leases of Federal Waters, where offshore wind is expected to migrate. Seems like the only jobs being created are Federal jobs. By the way, they have 14 openings right now and some of them are Petroleum and Enviromental Engineers, so if you’re not busy, check it out.
The process to get a lease from BOEMRE will take at least 2-3 years before you can even think about putting equipment out. Can you spell Boondoggle?
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