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[OT] Windbelts - The Next Cool Energy Technology

Windbelts - The Next Cool Energy Technology


Start here to see this revolutionary new technology!  I'm not kidding - this is a huge game changer!

Whether you like it or not, our energy landscape is changing.  Our children's energy needs will incorporate all the energy resources we're currently used to - electricity generated by coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants with automobiles powered by gasoline and diesel.  But their energy needs will also be met by a plethora of other sources, such as wind, wave, and solar methods of collecting energy along with cars power by electricity, fuel cells, and possibly alternative fuels like hydrogen and LNG.  Today, those energy sources contribute less than 5% of our total energy needs.  But, for the next generation, they may contribute 10-25% of the total energy needs in America. Every percentile less hydrocarbon-based fuel that we use represents billions of gallons of oil that we don't have to import.

One of the biggest obstacles to widespread implementation of any of the alternative energy technologies is the cost of implementation, usually measured as dollars per watt.  For example, older solar panels are very costly (usually around $2/w) as are parabolic mirror systems, which also have a large number of moving parts and, thus, high maintenance costs.  And big wind turbines, while efficient, are also monumental structures built at great expense with big time maintenance costs.  Personally, I really like the promise of wave power because of its constancy.  We will always have waves and tides as long as we have the moon.  Solar and wind, though, are vexed by inconstancy - the sun sets every night on solar power plants and wind speeds must exceed 12 mph to power a turbine on a typical wind farm.  Unfortunately, wave technology is probably about 20 years behind solar in terms of development and has a lot of obstacles to overcome due to the high amount of wear and tear inflicted by the elements.

Wide implementation of any alternative energy can becomes dramatically more effective through tinkering with the equation in one of two ways.  The first way is to improve the efficiency of the technology such that it creates many more watts at the same cost.  The current record for a solar film is about 20% conversion of sunlight into energy, though commercially available solar cells are only in the low teens of efficiency.  On the other side of the equation, we can produce the same or somewhat lower watts (i.e. efficiency), but at a dramatically lower cost.  Thus, our $/w ratio is greatly improved on either the dollars-in side of the equation or the energy-out side of the equation.  Alter either one and the equation behind the technology starts to look promising.

Here's an example - it currently costs about $20,000 to $38,000 to place enough solar panels on your home to provide 4 kilowatts of power, about what a standard middle-class American home consumes.  A German company just developed a new thin-film solar technology earlier this year which can probably produce nearly as much energy, but for only half the cost.  While it doesn't enable a typical American family to live entirely off the grid, it is more affordable and has a payback period that's not measured in decades.  This technology is still in the lab, so it'll probably be a few more years before we see it commercially available.  (An irony of this scenario is that relatively sunless Germany is one of the foremost leaders in solar technology due to the generous government subsidies in the wider context of energy consumption.  IMO, that's reason enough to consider our own subsidies so that we don't get left behind on one of the 21st-century's important industries.)

Now, there's an even more exciting new breakthrough in the area of wind energy.  It's called the windbelt, invented by Shawn Frayne.  I seriously hope that Shawn makes a mint on this idea.  But he seems to be taking the even more laudable path of Dr. Jonas Salk, who never exploited his polio vaccine for personal gain.  A windbelt is essentially an aeolian harp string covered in the proper energy producing magnetic compounds which, when buffeted by the wind, wavers near conducting elements on the sides of the windbelt.  Voila!  It produces 10- to 30- times more energy than a turbine.  Plus, it's extremely cheap and easy to make and maintain while requiring only slight winds, rather than the gusty 10+ mph required by turbines.

With proper configuration, you can build them into windfarms.  But you could also use this technology for really interesting applications.  For example, smart sensors in the HVAC ducts of many of today's "green buildings" require you to change the batteries every couple of years.  Factoring the cost of the batteries and the cost of the maintenance staff, it's a couple thousand bucks over the life of the sensor.  Now, with a tiny windbelt attached to the sensor, you could create recharging sensors that don't need any light at all, using just a breath of wind from standard HVAC ventilation systems.

I'd love to hear your feedback!  Cheers,

-Kev

 Twitter @KEKline

 More content at http://KevinEKline.com/ 

Published Tuesday, October 06, 2009 5:07 PM by KKline
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Glenn Berry said:

Even if you don't believe in climate change or "peak oil", it makes economic sense to conserve energy by doing simple things like using CFLs, programmable thermostats, and upgrading your insulation.

Just like I don't like to see inefficient queries or wasted resources on a database server, I don't to see people (or society in general) being needlessly wasteful for no good reason.

I really hope that technology continues to improve to the point where renewable energy technology becomes affordable enough to see widespread adoption.

At least right now there are lots of rebates and tax incentives available that make energy efficiency an easier economic choice.

October 6, 2009 9:50 PM
 

KKline said:

Great point, Glen.

I have to be honest - the main reason I switched to CFLs wasn't to save energy, but was for the longer lifespan.  I got tired of constantly changing out incandescent bulbs, literally a couple every week.  Now, it's one CFL every few months.  But now that I see the cost savings on my energy bills, it makes a lot of sense to conserve energy.  In fact, that's probably the biggest single potential savings we as a society can achieve, by simply using less.

Thanks for the comment,

-Kev

October 6, 2009 11:45 PM
 

David (Dyfhid) Taylor said:

This is an extremely interesting concept. I'd love to know more about it. I have spent the last hour between teh Jetsongreen.com site (and it's plethora of comments) and humdingerwind.com, Frayne's site. Like the Jellyfish Wind Turbine, this looks like it could scale and be something that, while not take you off the grid entirely, would at the very least drastically lower your energy bill and carbon footprint. Thanks, Kevin, for bringing it to my (and our) attention!

October 7, 2009 12:02 AM
 

Adam Machanic said:

I'm interested in any technology that stops us from using as many natural resources, so this sounds great (except for some of the comments where people mentioned a buzzing noise--is that real?). Another interesting technology is cars that run on compressed air. I saw a couple of extremely interesting videos about a year ago, then never heard anything else. I hope those projects are picking up steam as well.

October 7, 2009 10:02 AM
 

Rajib Bahar said:

Anyone running their datacenter with this technology?

Here is a up-close picture of the windbelt I found at another site [http://cooperationearth.com/earth/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/windbelt.jpg]

October 13, 2009 9:15 AM
 

KKline said:

Thanks for pointing out those other websites, David.  I'm looking forward to checking those out.

Adam, I remember that when cars were first being built by tinkerers that there were lots of means of powering them.  Batteries, motors running everything from kerosene to alcohol, wound spring coils like giant wind-up watches, and compressed air.  It seems like everything old is new again.  UPS actually used compressed air powered forklifts in their warehouse logistics.  I didn't check for the URL but I remember Car & Driver recently doing a 3 or 4 page story about the technology.

Rajib, thanks for the other link.

-Kev

October 15, 2009 1:02 PM

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About KKline

Kevin Kline is a well-known database industry expert, author, and speaker. Kevin is a long-time Microsoft MVP and was one of the founders of PASS, www.sqlpass.org.

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