Catching The Wind

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Making electricity from wind is easy. The wind turns a turbine which — through some mechanism — causes electrical conductors to pass through a magnetic field, generating an electric current.

The hard part is catching the wind. Depending on the location, the wind may blow only sporadically or with insufficient strength to drive the turbine and overcome the resistance of the generator and the intervening gearing.

Obviously, a system that minimizes mechanical drag would be an advantage, allowing more of the wind’s power to be converted into electricity and less to be wasted overcoming friction.

The problem is, typical wind turbines — horizontal-axis turbines with propeller-like blades — require a substantial drive-train to transmit the angular momentum of the fast-moving blades through the slow-moving axle and the gears to the generator.

All of that hardware causes inefficiencies, creates noise, demands more maintenance, and requires higher wind speeds before the turbine can even begin generating electricity.

Vertical-axis turbines eliminate some of the gearing, making certain designs slightly more efficient. Yet, these are still basically the same design: propellers turning a shaft connected to gears driving a generator.

Now there’s a new design that eliminates the entire drive-train and much of the drag and inefficiencies along with it.

EarthTronics claims that their Honeywell Wind Turbine offers business and home owners an innovative wind energy system with a higher performance output and lower installed cost per kilowatt than any other competing small-scale designs on the market.

The turbine has small magnets mounted on the tips of its fan blades. As the wind rotates the fan, the magnets create an electric current in the coils in the unit’s housing. With no drive-train and fewer moving parts, there’s less mechanical overhead, less noise, and more power. The system is sold with an installation kit that includes an inverter to deliver household AC, as well as a “smart box” that regulates the flow of power and shuts the unit off in high wind by turning it sideways.

If EarthTronics’ promises hold true, the turbine could reduce the average American home energy bill by 18 percent.

The real advantage of the Honeywell Wind Turbine is that it can operate over a wider range of wind speeds than traditional designs. While most wind turbines with complicated gearboxes don’t start generating power until the wind reaches at least 8 mph, Honeywell’s design, which weighs just 95 lbs and has a diameter of only 6 feet, begins generating power with wind-speeds as low as 2 mph. This makes it useable over a much wider geographic range than other turbines. According to the company’s documentation, 80 percent of wind resources in North America are below 10 mph 90 percent of the time.

While it’s still true that no turbine will work if the wind doesn’t blow, if the Honeywell Wind Turbine performs as promised, catching the wind may have just gotten easier.

Jules Smith is the principal of LightningStrike Studios, a professional communications firm providing web site design and content, corporate documentation, and content marketing. His writing focuses on renewable energy and information technology.

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