Salient White Elephant

August 7, 2009

Summary of the Best Ideas on the Salient White Elephant

Since there are currently 127 posts on the Salient White Elephant, I thought it might be a good idea to devote this post to summarizing the best of these ideas.

Big Wind or Small Wind?

A worldwide network of inexpensive desktop computers ultimately proved to be far more powerful than the super computer. This lesson should not be lost on wind enthusiasts. However, the Salient White Elephant has proposed intriguing ideas both for very large wind turbines as well as for small wind turbines that may be deployed in large numbers. So why not experiment with both, and let the market sort the winners from the losers?

Idea #1) Circular Wind Dam

Circular Wind Dam

Advantage Over Flow Concentrators and Diffusers

Flow Concentrator and Diffuser

Increasing the outer diameter of a shroud in order to squeeze more wind through a turbine rotor causes the wind to develop greater tendency to veer around the entire structure – shroud, rotor, and all. For this reason, the laws of fluid mechanics tell us that you can squash only a limited amount of “extra wind” through the small opening that contains the rotor. But the wind dam is not subject to this limitation. Why not? Because the purpose of its flow manipulating structure is not to “contain the wind”, but rather to force it to do what it already wants to do – to veer around the entire flow manipulating structure! This effect can be increased indefinitely by building larger and larger dams. In this case, having nowhere else to go, the wind is obliged to flow around the entire structure, regardless of how big it is!

Another obvious advantage of the wind dam is that it is stationary and attached to the earth. A concentrator or diffuser must be suspended high in the air, and must be yawed with the machine. The shroud is large, poorly supported, and vulnerable to mechanical failure.

Here’s a link to the original Circular Wind Dam post. (I wonder if an offshore version of this idea would be possible in shallow water. In this case, the underwater part produces hydro power and the above water part produces wind power. One nice thing about combining the hydro and wind is that it would probably increase the net capacity factor. Also, it seems like it might be possible to design the underwater part to harvest both tidal and wave power.)

Idea #2) High Capacity Factor Wind Turbine

A very large wind turbine with a flow accelerating component (like the Circular Wind Dam just described) is designed to have a very low cut-in wind speed. The turbine is also designed to be very inexpensive through the removal of weight, leaving it perhaps even flimsy. Structural integrity is achieved by providing the machine with ample means for shedding the energy of higher speed winds, and for allowing storm winds to pass through the structure virtually unimpeded. (Perhaps a wall has slats or portholes that can open and close.)

Now because of the flow amplifying nature of the machine, it should be able to produce a significant amount of power at low wind speeds. This feature is remarkable in that it directly and significantly addresses the most glaring deficiency of wind as an energy source – it’s low capacity factor. I discussed increased capacity factor in two earlier posts entitled Capacity Factor and Very High Capacity Factor Wind Turbine.

Idea #3) Small Wind Business Model

This company (Small Wind Inc.) installs small wind turbines into people’s back yards, or perhaps onto the roofs of their homes or small businesses. However, Small Wind Inc. uses exactly the same business model as does the type of company that owns, maintains, and operates utility scale wind farms. That is, Small Wind Inc. erects, maintains, and repairs all of its wind turbines, and it sells the electricity generated by these small wind turbines to the power company. In exchange for the use of the home owner’s property, roof top, electrical wiring, wind resources, and so on, the homeowner receives a monthly check from Small Wind Inc.

Advantages of the Small Wind Business Model

  • Because Small Wind Inc. has tens of thousands of turbines in the field, it is in an excellent position to negotiate contracts with the power company. For example, it may have the negotiating firepower to be financially rewarded for the benefits of producing power at or near the point of consumption (instead of wasting energy by transmitting it over long distances through high voltage transmission lines).
  • Convincing a homeowner to put a big chunk of her life savings into an investment that is difficult to understand is a hard sell. Convincing a homeowner to climb an 80 foot tower with a pipe wrench clinched in her teeth to repair a broken wind machine is even more difficult. But it’s easy to sell someone on the idea of getting a monthly check when their only contribution is to avoid hitting base of the tower with a lawnmower!
  • Small wind machines are often considered more attractive than large wind farms. This allows small machines to be deployed in very large numbers. Coupled with the increased efficiency of generating power near the point of consumption, the small wind business model is good energy policy. The distributed nature of small wind also means that only small fractions of capacity will be offline at any given time for maintenance or repair.
  • Small Wind Inc. has experts in turbine siting. Only those homes and businesses that happen to have a good wind resource are selected as customers.
  • If 4 out of 10 homes in a small community have good wind resources, then the whole community can run on green power. Simply install 10 wind turbines on the 4 properties that have good wind resources.
  • Because Small Wind Inc.’s technicians are experts, cost of maintenance and repair of the wind machines is low.
  • Since Small Wind Inc.’s turbines may be deployed in large numbers, costs are lowered through purchasing parts and services in bulk, and economies of scale are realized in a variety of predictable and unpredictable ways.
  • Because power is produced at the point of consumption, transformers are not required to step voltage up to transmission line levels. This delivers significant cost savings.
  • Financing costs are low due to the expertise Small Wind Inc. has in this area, economies of scale, and the size, scrutability, and stability Small Wind Inc.

Idea #4) Walmart Rooftop Wind Turbine

Walmart Rooftop Wind Turbine

Though not shown in the diagram above, slats are positioned in the gap between the edge of the flat top of the Walmart building (dotted line) and the bottom of the dome roof. (This is the gap through which the ram air flows in under the dome roof.) The slats can open and close to allow or block this flow. With the wind direction depicted above, all of the slats on the left hand side of the diagram would be open in order to allow the ram air to enter from the left and concentrate beneath the dome, and all of the slats on the right hand side would be closed to prevent its escape. The original post describing this idea, Venturi Dome Baseball Stadium, has a diagram that shows how the slats work. Another post, Rooftop Wind Turbine, described a rooftop turbine for a typical residence.

Idea #5) Another Walmart Rooftop Wind Turbine

Aerial View Walmart Rooftop Wind Turbine

Simply put a Circular Wind Dam onto the roof of a Walmart store. In order to reduce turbulence, the store is first provided with a dome-shaped roof, and the Circular Wind Dam is mounted on top of the dome. The dome would look a little like the dome in the Walmart rooftop turbine described previously, but it would not have a hole and a turbine rotor in its center. Also, there would be no slats or gap between the edges of the flat top of the store and the underside of the dome.

Idea #6) VAWT Forest With OmniDirectional Flow Accelerators

Savonius Forest With OmniDirectional Flow Accelerators

Here’s the original post: VAWT Forest With OmniDirectional Flow Accelerators.

Idea #7) Highly Scalable Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine

In the diagrams below, the orange and dark blue lines represent guy wires. Comments are provided that explain which load each guy wire supports.

Downwind View, Highly Scalable Wind Turbine

Aerial View, Highly Scalable Wind TurbineThe Highly Scalable Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine is remarkable in that guy wires assist in supporting all of the large tower loads that are carried by the machine. This allows a great deal of weight and cost to be removed from the design. The original post explains in detail, and includes some very cool tilt-down versions.

Idea #8) Automatic Wind Turbine Blade Washer

Automatic Wind Turbine Blade Washer

If you don’t believe this embarrassingly simple device will work, then read the original post. You’ll be amazed that none of us ever thought of this idea until now.

Idea #9) Semi-Direct Drive Linear Turbine With Yawing Oblong Track

This one is too complicated to summarize, so I’ll just post a link to the original post that described it. But first, a word of advice – don’t be fooled by the apparent complexity of the diagrams. It isn’t as complicated as it first appears, and offers some tremendous performance advantages: Semi-Direct Drive Linear Turbine With Yawing Oblong Track.

More Good Ideas

Here’s a link to a page that is full of links to the best posts on the Salient White Elephant. That page has more links than are included the current post. Or if you’re really a glutton for punishment, you could just read every single one of the 127 Salient White Elephant posts!

June 27, 2009

Cable Untwisting System for Small Wind Turbine

Cable Untwisting System for Small Wind Turbine

The diagram shows the turbine yawed to the position where its power cables are completely untwisted. In this case, the cable that untwists the yaw system attaches to its topmost pulley wheel in such a way that it is not wrapped around that topmost pulley wheel at all. (The topmost pulley wheel is the one with the axis of rotation that is coincident with the turbine’s yaw axis). Now as the turbine yaws, it doesn’t matter which direction the turbine yaws in. Whichever way the turbine yaws, it wraps the untwist cable around the topmost pulley wheel, and in so doing it draws the twist sensing component that is attached to the untwist cable (colored purple) up to a higher elevation. When this part of the sensor passes close by the topmost twist sensor component (colored red), the control system knows that the power cables are twisted up. To untwist the turbine, the controller simply turns on the small electric motor at the base of the tower until the cable mounted twist sensor component passes by the lowest red colored twist sensor component, then turns the motor back off. If the system fails for some reason, the result is that the small untwist motor will burn up or blow a fuse – a minor repair indeed. The controller might wait until the wind isn’t blowing before untwisting the power cables.

Sensorless Variation

In this variation, the controller merely untwists the turbine every time the wind speed drops to zero (rotor blades not turning). Some kind of slip clutch mechanism might be provided to keep the untwist motor from burning up if it runs too long. Alternatively, the motor could be turned off whenever the power it draws jumps up by a large value (indicating the turbine has been completely untwisted). Or a simple mechanical switch could be tripped whenever the turbine is completely untwisted.

Manual Variation

A manual version of this device might also work well. In this case, the controller might issue some kind of mechanical or telecommunications signal to let someone know that the turbine needs untwisting.

April 29, 2009

Flow Accelerator that Yaws by Force of Drag

VAWT with Shroud that Yaws by Force of Drag

HAWT with Shroud that Yaws by Force of Drag

April 28, 2009

High Speed Centrifugally Stable VAWT

(Note – there are some errors in this post that I haven’t had time to fix yet, but I’m sure that if you know mechanical engineering you can easily correct the errors yourself. I think this idea might have potential once the errors are corrected. Note also that the torque tube will probably remain fixed with respect to the stationary tower rather than rotating around it. Also note that the struts each need to be connected by a vertical lattice (near the stationary tower) to keep them separated… that is, to¬†prevent the load that tends to bend the ends of the struts towards each other from being transferred to the rest of the structure, thereby defeating the fundamental purpose of the idea.)

(Okay, here’s a pic with some errors corrected, but with no explanation:

High Mechanical Efficiency Centrifugally Stable Darrieus Turbine


High Speed Centrifugally Stable VAWT, Side View

High Speed Centrifugally Stable VAWT, Aerial View

This is a 3 bladed turbine, but I have drawn only two blades in order to make the illustration easier to understand. And I realize there are a lot of “legitimate” mechanical designs to realize this concept, likely using gears instead of tires and so forth. But I’m not a mechanical engineer, and so I just want to draw something that will give the real designers an idea they can play with.

Because the tower does not rotate, the rotor can be very tall, very slender, and it can spin at high rpm without becoming centrifugally unstable. But can’t the stationary tower can bend just as much as the rotating tower? And if the stationary tower bends, won’t this cause the rotating part of the structure to become centrifugally unstable just as if the tower were rotating? No. To see this, consider what happens when the middle of a rotating tower bows in response to the lifting forces transmitted to the tower from the airfoil by the middle strut. In this case, the middle of the rotating tower bows in the downwind direction, but its rotational axis does not change. Therefore the mass of the rotating tower has been displaced from the rotational axis, and centrifugal force now acts to cause even more bowing, and the rotor has become unstable. But when the middle of the stationary tower bows in the downwind direction, the rotational axis of the middle struts and airfoils moves along with it. And so although the rotor’s axis of rotation is no longer straight, it is at least centrifugally stable.

Another advantage of this design is that the guy wires are not connected to the tower through bearings. This should provide a big reduction in mechanical losses, since the bearings at the top of a traditionally guyed Darrieus bear a very heavy load – the rotor’s overturning moment. Of course, the overturning moment must be supported somewhere by some bearings. This design has bearings inside the rings that the struts attach to. So is there any advantage in this compared to the traditionally guyed Darrieus? I’m not a mechanical engineer, so I don’t know. Maybe there’s no advantage at all, but I’m wondering if the approach here isn’t better because it is easier to influence the bearings at design time. For one thing, you can spread the load over as many bearings as you want, while the traditional design requires two sets of bearings – one at the top of the tower and one at the bottom. For another thing, the guy wires in the traditional design are not only trying to torque the bearings about a horizontal axis, they are also doing this cyclically, from very low torque to very high torque several times a second. Surely this can’t be good. Of course, the present design also places a cyclic load on the bearings – there’s no way to avoid that. But at least it’s a “typical” load in that it doesn’t try to twist the bearings to a new axis. So maybe this is a better approach. It seems to me that mechanical losses will be decreased by eliminating the torquing thing, but again, I don’t really have the background to know if this claim is accurate.

April 27, 2009

Practical Small Scale Airborne Kite Turbine

Practical Small Scale Airborne Kite Turbine

There’s a hole in the middle of the kite that the tube connects to so that the tube can reach the low pressure behind the kite.

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