I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Niels LaWhite, chief scientist for Second Wind
and ask him a few questions about Wind Energy. I was hoping that he would give me some guidance with my project
, instead he opened my eyes to the current wind energy situation in America and how I can help.
One thing that Niels told me which I found very interesting is that the Wind turbines that we use today are based on Danish designs. When the American's first started building turbines they believed they had a HUGE advantage because at the time America was the world leader in helicopter technology--it was far from the truth. The mechanics that go into making a helicopter work are all controllable forces. The blades spin and generate a controllable amount of lift. Well wind is as chaotic and turbulent a force as they come. So when you try an use tight gear boxes and finely tuned gear ratios that work at say 25mph winds, what happens when their is a gust of 40mphs? The turbine breaks!
The Danish on the other hand had a completely different approach. They had a government policy that helped inventors and engineers who were interested in wind tech get started. The government provided technical schematics and aid as a starting point. Then when these inventors modified the design, before they could release the product and make money, the government would take the turbine and test it and work with the inventor to improve the design. You see the Danish government didn't want any turbines to reflect poorly upon the country that made them. Smart huh?
I made this to explain the rest of the technical side of our discussion.
Niels and I then talked about the current state of wind power in America. He said that we don't need futuristic technologies like what Saul Griffith is working on, we have the tools we need NOW. All we need to do is get proper wind funded. Niels works for Second Wind, and if you didn't click the link above what they do is sell wind diagnostic equipment. This equipment is used to measure the wind in a location over a year long period. Once the test is complete the company can tell with a high level of certainty whether or not a wind turbine would be cost effective. Turbine are very expensive to install and they only really last for about five years until the rotors, gear box and other systems begin to fail.
Wind turbines can be very cost effective energy generating machines as long as the due diligence was done up front. Niels said that his general rule is, "if you like where you live, it would be a bad place for a turbine." 20mph winds have enough power to open a car door, so sorry to everyone who thinks that they are going to save the world by putting up a turbine on your house (me including).
So how does design come to save the day? I'll tell you. As a designer it is my job to inform people in clear and visually interesting ways. I believe that if people understood a bit more about what goes into make a
turbine effective they would see them as a real energy source and not some backyard bs. So I am going to make a poster series and maybe a flash movie or two that inform and inspire.
What do you all think? Any ideas?