What’s not to love about a World War II veteran’s revolutionary new wind turbine that’s virtually silent and doesn’t harm birds? Just one small thing: It probably won’t work.
This is the history of wind turbine design breakthroughs. Paul Gipe, a prolific and respected writer on wind power, has seen a million of them. I asked him his view of the Catching Wind Power Compressed Air Enclosed Wind Turbine, which has been in the news a bit this past week after a New Jersey engineering firm put out a press release announcing it was looking for investors to help take the device from prototype to ready-to-manufacture product.
Gipe wrote back: “It’s not original. It’s not new. It’s not significant in any way. It will be gone in a few years.”
Gerard Lynch, who owns Sigma Design Company in Middlesex, N.J., said he can understand the skepticism. But he defended the potential of the conical device, which the press release said “squeezes the incoming air, compressing it as it draws through the turbine and multiplies it creating more power.”
“We have a prototype that Raymond sent us and we did some preliminary testing that we think is encouraging,” Lynch said in a phone interview. “It’s not ready for commercialization, but we can make the technology work. Making it work as far as costs, what will be its price point, how it’s going to fit into the market — those are some of the unknowns.”
Raymond is Raymond Green, an 89-year-old from Jackson, Calif., identified by Sigma Design as “a World War II veteran and retired welder and operating engineer.” Green’s own website suggests that his efforts are equally motivated by a desire to make a better wind turbine, and a drive to put veterans to work building turbines.
It’s a great thought and maybe it’ll all happen. But Mike Bergey, president of Bergey Wind Power and a longtime leader in trying to bring rigor to the often vaporous world of small wind — his company’s Excel 10 was the first turbine to be certified by the Small Wind Certification Council — suspects not.
Over the years, Bergey has seen many variations on Green’s idea of capturing and compressing the wind.
“These ‘breakthroughs’ all fail commercially because when they get to a real world field test of a prototype the concentration effect turns out to be less significant than predicted and the performance falls well short of the inventor’s initial newsworthy claims,” Bergey told me in an email.
“It turns out that it’s easier for the wind to flow around the concentrator or diffuser, so less wind actually flows through the rotor. This poor actual performance combined with the significant added cost of the concentrator or diffuser structure invariably means that these turbines produce energy at higher costs than conventional non-augmented horizontal-axis wind turbines. That’s why these companies never get past a handful of installations in the field – the numbers just don’t work.”
Perhaps Raymond Green and Sigma Design will prove the experts wrong. Lynch certainly sounds utterly sincere in his desire to take a shot at turning the Catching Wind Power turbine into a finished product.
Then – but not before – Paul Gipe would be happy to give it a close look. As he writes on his website, citing the advice of German engineering professor Robert Gasch, “If there is a new wind turbine, no one should pay the slightest attention to it until they ‘build it, measure it, and publish’ the results. Until then, it’s just hot air – and nothing more.”