Drew Dowdell - January 19, 2012 - CheersandGears.com
One of the limitations of current wind turbine technology is the limited amount of power generated per turbine. Large scale installations are required to match the power output of just the smaller coal buring powerplant. The largest wind turbines in the world produce about 5mw of power while the average coal fired power station produces around 500mw. Simple math can tell you that 100 of the largest wind turbines we have would need to be built to equal just one coal power plant. The additional real estate and construction costs v. the fuel costs of coal and natural gas are a substantial hurdle in the adoption of wind power.
A new development from Japan shows a promising way to change the math. A scientist at Japan's Kyushu University has developed a simple addition to the wind turbine that can increase the power output between 100 to 200 percent. A curved ring called a "wind lens" installed around the outer edge of the blades disperses air away from the trailing side of the turbine. This has the effect of creating a vacuum behind the turbine that draws additional air through. The wind lens itself is made of fiberglass and is a relatively inexpensive addition to the turbine's construction. Additionally, existing turbines can be retrofitted with the wind lens, potentially tripling the output of existing wind farms.
Going back to the math, the number of turbines needed to equal the power output of a coal plant drops from 100 to about 34. The largest onshore wind farm in the world is Roscoe Wind Farm in Roscoe, Texas. Rated at a power output of 781.5 megawatts, if retrofitted with wind lenses, could potentially triple output to 2,344 megawatts or roughly equal to two standard size nuclear power plants.
The wind lense has another benefit. It allows the turbine to start and operate efficiently at much lower wind speeds greatly increasing a turbine's baseline power generation. Low wind situtations therefor have a less drastic effect on power output.
How does this relate to automobiles? Plug in electric vehicles and plug in hybrid vehicles are still proliferating in the marketplace and their presence is expected to grow. Charging at home can have a noticable impact on a household's financial bottomline. Typical home wind installations cost roughly $8,500 before any tax credits and generate 3,000 watt-hour of power peak. Tripling that output to 9,000 watt-hours cuts a substantial savings into the average household using 11,000 watt-hours a month.
This new development in wind technology could mean that the wind would really be blowing your Nissan Leaf down the road.