Wind-Win Advances Wind Turbine Design: From Propeller to Jet Engine Technology
Experts and investors alike agree that wind power is currently the most viable form of renewable energy available for mass production. Yet despite recent improvements in efficiency and cost, wind power has a long way to go before it can become the foundation for renewable energy production throughout the world. Wind Power inventor Brad Sorensen cut his teeth designing aircraft and cars and thinks he may have found the design innovation that can take wind power to the next level of worldwide production.
One of the many products you've helped design and patent is Wind-Win for wind power. One commentator has described your product as "capable of moving us from propellers to jet engines" in terms of generating wind power. As the inventor and patent-holder of this product, talk a little bit about its design. What does it mean that it's the "next generation?" What is its niche, and how is it being implemented and developed around the globe?
I'm rather surprised that we're here in the year 2007, still using propellers that were designed back in 1944 to make our wind power. In a world where we're trying to satisfy the mandates that have been laid down by people like Arnold Schwarzenegger—who set out a goal of 30 percent of our power coming from clean, renewable sources—trying to create 30 percent of the power in California using 1944 propellers is just ridiculous. It makes much more sense to me, being an aircraft designer, that we wouldn't use propellers; instead, we'd use a jet engine approach to extract the largest amount of the available energy from wind as possible. General Electric's three-bladed windmills make enough power to be very successful. They make profits because there's no fuel cost involved. Wind power in general, as a concept, is a spectacular idea. Companies like GE, Vestas, Siemens, Mitsubishi, and Nordex turn out some really beautiful equipment. But it's just not good enough. Their equipment is not as efficient as it should be. If we are going to save this planet from global warming, we have to have the most efficient clean power sources that we can get our hands on.
So, it's been my goal over the last year or so to completely develop a system that takes into account the actual physics of what it's like to extract energy out of wind. One thing that I learned while designing the spoilers on the back of Indianapolis 500 race cars is that if you've got a certain amount of power that you want to make from wind, you've got to touch the wind with the largest surface area you possibly can with the smallest amount of drag, affecting the wind at different speeds in order to attain your goals. Today's windmills are set up for a sweet spot of about 11-17 miles per hour. Almost every three-bladed windmill in existence works relatively close to that speed. Here on Earth, the wind generally blows less than ten miles an hour. So why do we have a windmill system that starts at 11 and goes to 17? For the first time, we've created a new kind of windmill that operates at all the wind speeds available from the planet Earth. That's from less than one mile per hour, which is the most prevalent, all the way up to 250 miles an hour, where the wind can spike during catastrophes.
Elaborate on the "jet" versus "propeller" design. What are the bottom line value equations that lead clients to choose a new technology rather than commercialized products?
It's pretty significant. In this case, we've already lined up some bankers behind us, because they've had a chance to look at this and do diligence on it. We intend to take these three-bladed windmills off of their poles and replace them with an eight-layer multi-ring jet engine, thus increasing the efficiency 3,100%. No matter how you cut that, that's a good business all the way around, especially since we have bankers who are willing to give construction loans to do it. That means no risk has to be taken.
One of your potential Wind-Win clients is the Los Angeles Community College District. What is the opportunity and the mindset that brings LACCD to your product?
In the case of the community colleges, the leader of that project, Larry Eisenberg, is very green-minded. He'd like to create a green energy situation, as well as take his colleges off the grid. He also wants to make more power than they need so that it's possible to sell energy credits back to the utilities or possibly just earn energy credits on one campus so that they can get some of their other campuses taken off the grid to eliminate their power bills. They have a certain amount of money they get every year to run their projects. If they can figure out a way to get power, eliminate their power bill, and possibly get an income from this, it makes it possible to do everything else that they want to do with their colleges.
Introducing new technologies, which you've been doing your whole life, always encounters forces that support the status quo. What are the lessons you've learned about the process and pace of innovation in the market place?
In this case, we've named the company very aptly. It's called Wind-Win because we want to foster a win-win situation all the way around. The best way to deal with change is to make it so that virtually everybody in the system gets to win. In effect, we want to provide a product that creates more for everyone. We are interested in directly helping the utilities; we're interested in helping the colleges; we're interested in creating new jobs; we're interested in taking the infrastructure that exists and adding to it, rather than replacing it. We're not interested in making a negative ripple effect; we're interested in making a positive ripple effect.
Of all the renewable technologies, wind has received the most investment in the last few years. Is wind still a viable market for newcomers? What's Wind-Win potential?
In this case, I'm just ecstatic that people are interested in wind, and I know why they are. It is renewable, it's perpetual—the sun's uneven heating of the earth's surface, which causes high and low pressures, causes wind. We designers love—and it's sort of the Holy Grail—to produce a perpetual motiontype machine. We live on the planet Earth, which is perpetually spinning in front of the sun. To this point, we've got propellers pulling down a tiny amount of that energy. It would be much better to use my jet engine-type windmill to pull down a larger percentage of this existing energy and solve all of our problems without using fuels like coal, nuclear, and gas in order to provide the energy we need.
China is one of the most promising global markets for Wind-Win. What have your discussions with Chinese officials been like to date?
Back in January, I spent 14 days in China talking to regional leaders and offering them the option of solving some of their air pollution problems by using wind energy. China already has a very robust program of producing three-bladed windmills, and they have a couple of places in China that have ridiculously high wind resources. One is in northern Mongolia, and the second one is in Harbin. These are places where you average 30-40 miles per hour of wind, and the wind peaks at around 110 miles an hour. It's a tremendous wind resource. They were looking at companies like General Electric, Vestas, and Nordex to produce the windmills that they need. However, they've got problems. Number one, they don't make power until 11 miles per hour, and then they feather at 17 miles per hour. General Electric doesn't have machinery that can stand up to a consistent 100 mile per hour wind. It would just knock them over. So I don't believe that the propeller is going to solve China's problems. I believe that a jet engine that is designed, from the start, to take 250 miles per hour is the right thing to put in a 100-mile-anhour wind. That's why China is interested in buying 100 of our $1 million-each units, then buying 1,000 after that, and so on and so on.
When I was in Beijing, the temperature was ten below zero, and it was possibly the worst smog I have ever experienced in my life. The air was thick with the smell of burning coal. Most of the people there have consistent coughs, and the government is admitting to 24 percent of the people in Beijing having black lung disease from coal exposure. That could be the future of America if we continue to do what we're doing. We've known about coal, we've known about acid rain, we've known about using up our precious oil reserves, and we've known all about nuclear for years. The problems all exist, but until this point, there hasn't been a viable answer, such as replacing the old propeller with a jet.
For more information, contact Brad Sorensen at 310-802-8082.