To read the first article in our renewable energy series, click here.

Our continued use of renewable energy processes will hopefully be the key to saying goodbye to fossil fuels forever. The increasing installation of wind turbines as well as new wind power technologies across the world has undeniably made it one of the most popular sources of renewable energy today.

The major types of renewable energy in use today include:

  • Solar power
  • Wind power (the focus of this article)
  • Hydropower
  • Biomass energy
  • Geothermal energy

With all of these options for clean energy and so much promise for further technological advancements, it is quite easy to imagine a world fully sustained by renewable energy processes in the future.

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Image courtesy of Joby Energy

Wind Power

The technology for this energy harvesting process is certainly innovative and effective, however, like all energy technologies today, it has some drawbacks. Therefore, scientists and experts all over the world are developing new and more efficient ways of harvesting energy from the wind. Some of these new technologies are being installed right now, and some are being developed for future use.

Today, energy from the wind is most commonly harvested using horizontal-axis wind turbines or HAWT; those huge propellor-like machines that you can commonly see on wind farms. However, this promising technology has, in recent years, gathered more skepticism than praise from experts and critics. While HAWTs have the ability to turn a windy day into useable clean energy, they can also kill birds, require expensive regular maintenance, have many issues with efficiency and can annoy local residents with greatly obstructed views and undesirable (not to mention unhealthy) noise levels. HAWTs also require a relatively high wind speed in order to work at all.

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A horizontal-axis wind turbine. Image courtesy of Symscape.com

Some of these issues were overcome with the introduction of verticle-axis wind turbines or VAWT. The VAWTs were designed specifically for low wind speed, operating at a low RPM rate, as opposed to HAWTs high RPM. The vertical axis design allows for lower vibration levels and a much smaller noise level than that created by the horizontal-axis turbines. So if the VAWT technology has fewer drawbacks than HAWT, why aren’t these more popular? Well, the vertical-axis turbines trade one set of compromises for another, and not favourably. They typically occupy twice the area and require four times the material than that needed for a horizontal-axis turbine in order to generate the same amount of electricity.

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A vertical-axis wind turbine. Image courtesy of Gecko.org.au

Although these wind power technologies come hand-in-hand with some issues, scientists and experts recognise the benefits of developing this technology in order to more efficiently harness the power of the wind. Imagine a world run exclusively by solar power and wind power technologies, as well as other renewable energies including Hydropower, Biomass energy and Geothermal energy. Wind power is a great way to generate clean renewable energy, and the innovations in wind technology being pursued over the last year or so are a reminder that with the right tools, we can transform the movement of the air above us into fuel for our future.

Here are two of the most popular and most promising innovations taking over the wind power world:

Airborne Wind Turbines

It’s no secret that some of the highest wind speeds can be found way above ground. High-altitude winds have always been beyond the reach of our past scientific knowledge and our technological capabilities, however many designs and prototypes for airborne wind turbines are now being developed in order to reach these new and exciting heights in wind energy harnessing. Designs include kite-like devices and blimps which, with the proper technology, would convert wind into power and send this back down to Earth via some form of tether.

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Founder of Joby Energy stands with his prototype of an airborne wind turbine. Image courtesy of Robert Nickelsberg/howstuffworks

Joby Energy explains the advantages of developing these airborne wind turbines: “Winds at higher altitudes are faster and more consistent than winds near the Earth’s surface and contain more than three times the power providing a phenomenal untapped resource.”

So, while some scientists and energy experts believe more wind farms on the ground is the answer to more sustainability through wind power, this high-altitude idea is certainly an interesting option which would produce higher energy readings. These devices (see prototype above) have yet to be tested at the alititude for which they are designed. One of the most interesting aspects about this particular prototype is the use of lightweight materials. This means it would not only be cheaper to develop than HAWTs and VAWTs, but would also require less maintenance and repairs in the long run as compared to the bulky and expensive ground turbines.

Windstalks

This an amazing innovative concept by New York design firm Atelier DNA provides a viable solution to the problems associated with traditional HAWT and VAWT wind technology. The simple design of these Windstalks in Abu Dhabi allows for a straight-forward energy harnessing process: the Windstalks generate electricity when they wave in the wind. No more spinning turbines, therefore no birds killed. No more loud machinery, in keeping with the planned city [Masdar] being automobile-free. And let’s be honest, not only is this a highly plausible idea, it also looks very cool; imagine driving down the highway in Abu Dhabi and seeing this outsdie your window:

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Abu Dhabi windstalk concept. Image courtesy of Discovery News.

Not only is this area designed to be an energy harnessing field, it also acts as a work of art and so would be a centrepiece for the new Masdar city development just outside of Abu Dhabi. The integration of this wind farm into a city space is something that hasn’t really been seen before. Most wind farms are set aside on plotted land, out of the way (due to noise), whereas the windstalk field can act as both a renewable energy station and a city landmark.

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Looks very futuristic! Image courtesy of Discovery News.

What do you think? Is airborne the way to go? Or should we focus on developing our wind energy technology in less problematic ways on the ground?

Either way, it is obvious that both of these innovations are proof that sustainable energy still has a long way to go and it has no intention of slowing down until advancements are made and a renewable energy future is in sight.

Featured Image courtesy of Energy.gov

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