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PowerWINDows aims to rethink the wind turbine

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April 16, 2013

Researchers in Australia have developed the PowerWINDows, a new type of wind turbine that ...

Researchers in Australia have developed the PowerWINDows, a new type of wind turbine that replaces spinning blades with slowly rotating window panels

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Wind farms may be hitting the big time, but that hasn't deterred inventors and technologists from tinkering, or even reinventing, the turbine itself. In the past few months we've seen wind energy systems that use discs attached to hydraulics and even charged water droplets, but how about skyscrapers outfitted with rotating window panels? This is the idea behind the University of Wollongong's PowerWINDows concept, a modular wind turbine designed to have less of an impact on the surrounding environment.

A team led by Professor Farzad Safaei, director of the Information and Communication Technology Research Institute at UOW, has spent the past four years designing the PowerWINDows as a method for harvesting wind energy that's less intrusive to the surrounding area.

At a glance, the current design looks not much different from a standard window, except the grid pattern is made up of panels that twirl in the breeze. Rather than have one large set of blades turning perpendicular to the wind's direction, the PowerWINDows are made up of smaller blades that rotate slowly along the same path as the wind.

According to Safaei, this method produces less air turbulence, reducing the amount of stress on nearby structures and generating less noise. Aside from lowering maintenance and operational costs, this design could theoretically be installed almost anywhere without having as much of a negative effect on the area nearby.

The design of the PowerWINDows means panels can be integrated into existing structures, li...

Another advantage the PowerWINDows could have over conventional wind turbines is modular construction, which allows more panels to be added when extra energy is needed, rather than setting up a whole new turbine. This design also means panels can be installed more easily and even integrated into existing structures, like the sides or tops of tall buildings.

Now that a solid design has been drawn up, the next step is to build a working model to analyze how the PowerWINDows stack up to other methods of wind energy harvesting. UOW recently signed an initial two-year agreement with marine engineering group Birdon Pty Ltd to create a prototype that can be used for further testing. If all goes well, the company hopes to start production on a commercial version for use around the world.

Source: University of Wollongong

About the Author
Jonathan Fincher Jonathan grew up in Norway, China, and Trinidad before graduating film school and becoming an online writer covering green technology, history and design, as well as contributing to video game news sites like Filefront and 1Up. He currently resides in Texas, where his passions include video games, comics, and boring people who don't want to talk about either of those things.   All articles by Jonathan Fincher
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13 Comments

It looks like it adds a lot of moving parts and complexity, and would most likely be far less efficient that standard designs.

Michaelc
16th April, 2013 @ 06:11 am PDT

I agree it looks excessively complex. When I first saw these I thought they were using this: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/solar-wind/4224763 which would be vastly simpler and look about the same.

VirtualGathis
16th April, 2013 @ 07:16 am PDT

I predict low efficiency and low reliability even by the standards of renewable energy supporters.

Slowburn
16th April, 2013 @ 02:38 pm PDT

The main problem with vertical rotating turbines is keeping the sand and dust out of the main thrust bearing underneath the rotor. These "eggbeater" devices have been around since the 70s but they stopped using them because of the maintenance required.

dchall8
16th April, 2013 @ 06:03 pm PDT

re; dchall8

VAWT weren't as efficient as predicted either.

They cant be touched on the ability to deal with shifting winds. You often see wind farms where the turbines on the ends are spinning but the ones in the middle are idol. Look closely the wind is probably blowing in opposite directions at the ends of the wind farm. VAWTs in the middle could still run.

Slowburn
16th April, 2013 @ 08:11 pm PDT

It is good to see people trying different approaches in an effort to gain greater efficiency... But, and I'm no engineer, this doesn't look like it will achieve any of the goals set out.

If you are replacing one big blade and one big gearbox with hundreds of small blades and axles are you lowering or increasing maintenance? I'd say increasing. Also, by increasing the surface area of the system, aren't you loading a whole heap more shearing forces?

Sure, give this a go, but it smells bad from the start.

Scion
16th April, 2013 @ 09:33 pm PDT

These will be less efficient for sure, compared to a standard wind turbine. The proposed design has much more drag, more joints where interference drag and noise is being created as the angle of attack changes over every rotation. There's a reason why egg-beaters are designed the same way: They just stir up their medium and do little else.

But they do not claim to be more efficient, they say they have less impact on environment. You will need more of these to create the same amount of energy as you would with conventional wind turbine towers, so where is the positive effect? More material used, more area wasted, more environment cluttered.

@slowburn: The turbine in the middle does not run because in the middle, there is no wind. A VAWT in the same place would not run either because of the same fact. If the drag is too high in an area, the wind will start to just flow around it. That is happening with too large wind farms in low wind conditions. Being a pilot, I see this very frequently: The direction of the individual towers clearly indicates a flow pattern, if looked at from above.

The same effect limits the efficiency of any wind turbine: If it could pull out more energy, it would just slow down the air in it's area, and all surrounding air would just flow around it, and that's it, then.

martinkopplow
17th April, 2013 @ 02:58 am PDT

I can see a much better case for a grid of miniature conventional turbines in this framework. Compared to the same swept area with a single turbine, it should save on economies of mass production, easier cooling, shorter cantilevers, and possibly elimination of gearing. They might be safer for wildlife, and would not produce rhythmic sound and light pollution. They might be mass-produced on a spool with two main cables, and deployed from kites as well as stationary structures.

Bob Stuart
17th April, 2013 @ 06:10 am PDT

re; martinkopplow

I have both talked with an engineer with a wind energy company and seen the turbines visually turning in opposite directions.

Slowburn
17th April, 2013 @ 01:18 pm PDT

@ slowburn

Yes, they actually turn in different directions, because local wind is in different directions. Large wind farms also tend to separate warm air masses from the ground because of the turbulence they create. This creates thermal convection right over the plant and has great influence on local wind. On summer days, I have seen all the outer wind turbines of a farm facing outward and running, while the inner ones stand disoriented and mostly idle. Once this chimney effect is triggered, it can take quite some time before it comes to an end: Either supply of warm air must stop, or general wind must pick up enough to wash the whole system away.

A VAWT would not help here, because it is not an issue of wind direction but rather wind speed.

martinkopplow
18th April, 2013 @ 03:11 am PDT

You are missing the important detail "attached to existing structures"

When you talk of efficiency do you bother to add in the cost of land, long transmission networks and line losses?

Why build wind farms in the country then have to build transmission lines to the cities to put power into the grid?

Doesn't the wind blow in the cities? Standard turbines are unlikely to be in cities but some other design like this could.

Robin McCabe
18th April, 2013 @ 02:26 pm PDT

@ Robin:

No matter what the designers claim: These things are going to be noisy. Couple them to a building and you will hear all sorts of humming, flapping, whirring, whining noises all over the place. Be them aeroacoustic or mechanical, it does not matter: You won't close an eye on a windy night. Dead pigeons will fall onto the roof of your favorite donut booth every other minute.

Also, wind does not blow as much IN the cities, but rather OVER them. It is more effective to put fewer but higher efficient wind turbines somewhere else ...

martinkopplow
19th April, 2013 @ 03:04 am PDT

Hm, they specifically mention 'slower speed of rotation', don't they? Which means less noise... Well, how much less remains to be seen, but coupled with glasses that strongly reduce noise, it may turn out to be suitable for some cases... No loss during transportation, straight to the batteries, climate control units, lighting system, etc...?

Volodya Kotsev
20th April, 2013 @ 11:01 am PDT
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