Under-utilised wind power technologies could soon experience a renaissance, writes Cora Moran
Wind power constitutes one of the largest components of the global renewable energy mix and has great capacity for continued rapid growth.
While wind power is one of a wide variety of complementary renewable energy technologies, the great majority of wind power capacity globally is of the classic horizontal axis fan-style design.
There are, however, various innovative and under-utilised wind technologies that until recently have been overlooked which offer substantial potential to increase the amount of energy generated by wind, as well as improve the energy efficiency of various industries.
- Atmospheric vortex engines
For example, atmospheric vortex engines could be utilised to improve the efficiency of thermal plants, where flues of thermal exhaust can be passed through such a device and the heat energy harnessed. A heat source is placed at the base of a cone-shaped tower and warm air is funnelled up, creating updrafts that can be used to generate power. Turbines located around the base of the funnel then capture the crosswind created and generate electricity. This technology, invented by Canadian engineer Louis Michaud, is very much still in the concept phase of development, but has been shown in principle to be effective and may have great potential.
- Kite wind turbines
Another technology that shows promise is the kite wind turbine, where turbines are suspended hundreds of metres in the air on kite tethers. Such set ups offer advantages over ground-based turbines due to the more consistent wind speeds at higher altitudes. A variety of designs are being trialled; some with a straightforward kite apparatus – such as the British firm Kite Power Solutions – and some with a more hybrid designs employing some of the techniques used in airships, such as US-headquartered firm Altaeros.
However, not all wind power technologies with potential are new.
The Rotor Sail, a vertical cylinder which is spun on its axis by the wind, was invented in the mid-twentieth century. Although this technology has been researched extensively, it has only recently garnered commercial interest as the highly carbon-intensive ocean freight industry seeks to reduce emissions to reduce costs and pollution. The first commercial models have now been deployed by Finnish company NorsePower, which has developed a version using lightweight materials and are now fitting out cargo ships.
Although this [wind] technology has been researched extensively, it has only recently garnered commercial interest as the highly carbon-intensive ocean freight industry seeks to reduce emissions to reduce costs and pollution
These are, of course, only a small number of the examples of underutilised or innovative technologies with potential. A combination of new design innovations – such as using more lightweight construction materials – and the ongoing needs of industries to reduce emissions and improve efficiency are helping such technologies to become more mainstream.
These factors are likely only to intensify with time, and if such wind power technologies are successful in being more widely-deployed they can make an important contribution to our global transition to a low carbon future.
Cora Moran is an experienced researcher who has worked in the Built Environment & Renewable Energy sectors for a number of years and writes for the European Energy Centre about a range of environmental issues.