Powering Up … Up on Your Roof

The debate over large-scale wind turbines in Ontario has attracted a lot of attention lately. Whether or not industrial-sized wind turbines create a health hazard for people living nearby has yet to be clearly decided. Although there are numerous large wind turbines in Europe that operate without controversy, they are apparently located up to 2 km. away from inhabited areas.

It appears to me that technological innovations will eclipse this debate and make smaller scale roof-mounted turbines the preferred choice. It would be a welcome development for Innisfil where many of us live in proximity to Lake Simcoe and have the benefit of fairly consistent winds. Although the contenders have yet to be commercialized, there are a couple of promising technologies in the wings.

A wind turbine design called RidgeBlade® is the furthest along in development. Conceived by the Power Collective Ltd, in England, this design won the Dutch Postcode Lottery Green Challenge in 2009. The competition award of €500,000 is being used to perfect the design further, including the fabrication of 200 prototype test units. This step will precede government certification and final commercialization.

Artist's impression - the RidgeBlade® is actually smaller than shown

According to the company’s website:

The unique design means it can reliably produce electricity in low or variable wind conditions whilst creating very little visual impact. This means that it is suitable for locations including urban houses, rural buildings and environmentally-sensitive sites such as National Parks.

The RidgeBlade® is fitted on the ridge line at the top of a building and uses the existing roof area to collect and focus the prevailing wind. This is where the wind is forced to travel over the roof surface, accelerating the airflow through the turbine.”

The company plans to license and manufacture locally around the world and says “we are not currently looking for distributors or resellers, but we would be interested in talking to organisations who feel that they could help us to make RidgeBlades in their own country.”  Hello Ontario manufacturers!

What could be better than a light, quiet, efficient, roof-mounted turbine? How about one with no moving parts? Incredible as it sounds, Accio Energy, a company in Ann Arbor, Michigan is working to create this amazing technology. Accio’s web site describes the technology this way:

Aerovoltaic technology is an approach to wind energy that does not rely on electromagnetic effects to produce electricity from the wind’s kinetic energy … Aerovoltaic technology harvests energy by using the wind to move electrically charged particles against a voltage gradient. The electricity generated is fed directly to the grid or stored locally to provide energy on demand.

This concept is still in the early development stages. As far as I know, there has been no prototype or public demonstration. However, the company has enough credibility to receive a $500,000 DARPA grant (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency), funding from the US National Science Foundation and $25,000 Alternative Energy Sector Prize from the Michigan Innovation Competition.

Although large scale wind turbines may continue to have their place, technology is moving toward small, efficient power generators that create power where it’s needed, minimizing distribution costs and transmission losses. It may be over my head now, but soon it’ll be on the roof.