In the past five years, bigger, more advanced wind turbines have greatly improved performance and lowered the price of wind energy, but that’s nothing compared to what scientists in Australia are working on.
A team at the University of Wollongong is in the final stages of developing offshore wind turbines that are 1000 times more efficient at one-third of today’s price. They hope to see the turbines installed along Australia’s wind-blown coast within the next five years.
The key seems to be the use of superconductors and elimination of the gear box. While gearless turbines have been around for years, replacing it with a superconducting coil captures wind and converts it to electricity without any power loss.
"In our design there is no gear box, which right away reduces the size and weight by 40%," explains lead researcher Shahriar Hossain. "We are developing a magnesium diboride superconducting coil to replace the gear box. This will capture the wind energy and convert it into electricity without any power loss, and will reduce manufacturing and maintenance costs by two thirds."
That cuts the cost of turbines to $3-5 million each, down from $15 million today, and they would be much easier to transport without the heavy gear box, they say.
Researchers are making superconducting coil from magnesium and boron, which is inexpensive, durable and easy to make. Since the materials don’t generate electrical resistance, they can store electricity without losing any energy, and they can circulate the current indefinitely.
"With industry support, we could install superconducting offshore wind turbines off the coast of Australia in five years, no problem," says Hossain.
Another innovative wind design from the same university is Power WINDows, invented by Professor Farzad Safaei. You can see it placed between two city buildings:
"My primary aim was to overcome some of the key shortcomings of current wind turbine technology, in particular, enable modular manufacturing, transportation and installation, reduce noise, land usage footprint, and better integration with living environments."
To do that, he developed a modular design that looks like a large window and can be deployed in metropolitan areas as well as wind farms. Panels inside the window rotate slowly with the wind, replacing spinning blades. This quiets the turbine and creates less turbulence around it, greatly decreasing its overall footprint. It also makes it cheaper and easier to manufacture, install and operate. Need more energy? Just add more panels.
A prototype is under development.