Salient White Elephant

Wherefore the Salient White Elephant?

This blog presents raw ideas for unusual wind turbine designs and configurations. Most of these ideas are probably not very workable in their present form, but I hope they can stimulate productive discussion that may lead to practical improvements.

I created this blog because I feel that wind energy technology has reached a kind of turning point. There’s a renewed political resolve to invest in and develop technologies that are earth friendly, and that lead to the diversification of the energy sector. It seems we are realizing that just as diversification can strengthen and stabilize an investment portfolio, it can also strengthen and stabilize an industry. I suppose it wouldn’t be too far fetched to speculate that this kind of technology could even lead to better diplomatic relations between nations that crave energy to fuel economic growth and development. Yet another force that is moving wind technology toward a turning point is the growing concern over climate change, and the need to find alternatives to the ever increasing zeal with which we punish our environment. If you’re going to hit yourself in the head with a hammer, you may as well do a bang-up job of it. But if you change your mind and decide to enjoy life, then you have to appreciate that generating electricity from the wind does not produce carbon, radioactive waste, or other pollutants.

It strikes me as very ironic that just as the political winds seem to be hitting “cut-in speed”, wind technology seems to be reaching a scale where many are wondering how best to advance it. Turbine components have become so large and heavy that it’s difficult and expensive to transport them to the construction site, and once on site, it’s difficult and expensive to find a crane to lift them. And it’s really unfortunate about those cranes, since what we’d really like to do is get a lot more energy by making the towers even taller! It would be a shame to waste opportunities that are certain to be available in the new political climate on pie-in-the-sky ideas. And believe me, I will be the first to admit that you will find all the sky-pie your trembling little heart desires right here on the Salient White Elephant! On the other hand, given the challenges of forever increasing the size and weight of turbine designs, it might also be a mistake to miss the opportunity to explore new turbine ideas and configurations. In other words, if a new way forward is to be found, this might be a good time to find it. I think it’s also worth mentioning that experts in other technologies have faced similar dilemmas, and have often mistakenly concluded that the only way forward was to continue marching down the same well worn path that they were already traveling. For example, it was once believed that the best way to improve the super-computer was to build the super-duper-computer. Who could have guessed that a bunch of cheap desktop PCs could be wired together in a world-wide network that would deliver enough computational firepower to dazzle even the notorious Cray Supercomputers? And if this quantum leap in computing hardware isn’t sufficiently impressive, ask how the spectacular contributions of open source software developers from the Czech Republic to Silicon Valley could have taken place without the cool new hardware platform that connected them all together?

So… what’s the best way to advance wind technology? Unlike the rest of you, I do have a crystal ball. It doesn’t work very well though. Every time I look into it, all I see is this bewildered old fat guy scratching his head and looking at me… like I’m the one that’s supposed to tell him what to do. Personally, I suspect there’s nothing wrong with the ball – I just think they need to fire the guy inside that runs it. So there ya go. I’ve been left to develop my own new ways of looking at wind technology, with no help from a ball. Thus was born the Salient White Elephant.

I hope that some of the ideas presented here will help stimulate discussion and other new ideas. I do believe that practical improvements in wind technology are far more likely to result from an extended exchange of ideas within a large, diverse group of highly qualified people, than from some outrageous invention that popped into somebody’s head while singing in the shower. I put a wide variety of ideas on this blog, some of which are obviously not viable, because I consider the Salient White Elephant to be more like a documentation of brainstorming than a presentation of polished, ready-to-build-and-test design ideas. Most people who invest enough time working on wind turbines eventually realize how difficult it is to improve on the age-old idea of putting a giant propeller on a tower. Perhaps this stems from the thousands of hours of service these rotating skyscrapers are expected to deliver with only occasional visits from a service technician. The only other machine I can think of to compare with a wind turbine is a jumbo jet. The giant passenger jet is an impressive feat of engineering, to be sure, but it has the luxury of being taken apart and X-rayed every few flights. Given electricity more closely resembles a commodity like corn or wheat than a sophisticated and expensive service like air travel, I doubt wind turbines will ever be showered with such primo treatment. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has developed a somewhat jaded and skeptical view of new wind turbine ideas. My own personal design philosophy is that only devices that pass the drop test belong on a wind turbine. You never heard of the drop test? Well, put it into a helicopter, fly it up a thousand feet off the ground and then push it out. Then set your copter back down, pick up the device, and turn it on. If it still works, it is drop test certified, and it might… just might… have what it takes to fly on a modern wind machine. I guess what I’m saying here is that although I propose a lot of wild new ideas, I do not endorse them. For this reason I am advising you to forget everything I said to you here on the Salient White Elephant.

Well folks, I hope you can finally sleep now… knowing, as you do, the mystery of the Elephant – why he came, why he raised his magnificent trunk, and why he issued forth a silvery golden sound like a thundering heavenly trumpet. And with this we have reached the end of my final post to the indubitable Salient White Elephant Blog. Sniff… sniff… sniff… I know folks, it’s sad… it’s downright heartbreaking. I do feel your pain. I feel your pain… but I raise a glass of champagne… here’s a toast to you – the Green Scientists and Engineers across the globe who will continue to inspire us with bold new visions, and with tangible and irrefutable achievements that validate those visions. We need so much to know that we don’t have to bust up the furniture in our own planetary home just to have enough firewood to get through the winter. May you turn the movers and shakers of pollution science green with envy!



New Brunswick, Canada


My other blogs:

Salient White Elephant in Canada
(mostly energy related ideas, but anything goes on this blog!)

Cyberville Hobo
(music related inventions and ideas)

Doughnut County Sheriff
(inventions and ideas not related to wind energy or music)


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