Radical Wind Concept Promises Energy Storage

In some of the clean energy sectors – wave and tidal power especially, but even solar – a steady supply of novel concepts arrive to stoke the imagination (and provide fodder for renewable energy writers). Land-based wind power? Not so much. Most of the “new” concepts are actually old ones that don’t really stand up to scrutiny.

So that alone makes a story out of Wyoming this week interesting: The Casper Star-Tribune reported that the Cheyenne company Winhyne Energy Group made a presentation to Platte County commissioners for a demonstration project that does wind power in a whole new way, and in doing so offers the possibility of storing the energy it produces. While it’s too soon to say if this might be a big breakthrough, there does seem to be enough to it to warrant attention.

wind energy storage wyoming

image via Lancaster Wind Systems

What makes this concept different begins right atop the wind tower: there’s no generator in the nacelle. Instead, there are hydraulic pumps. Driven by the spinning turbine, these pumps pressurize a fluid that — in simple terms — flows from the turbine out to a hydraulic motor that drives a generator, producing electricity.

But the system also has the ability, at times when energy isn’t needed, to use that hydraulic pressure to compress nitrogen, an inert gas. This gas can then be used, when needed, to power a process that runs the hydraulic motor.

In a broad sense, this isn’t too far removed from the wind-storage concept Apple (of all companies) dreamed up. Apple’s idea was to use the turbine torque to heat a fluid, instead of pressurizing it, and to then use that heat to generate electricity.

While the Wyoming project is being pursued by Winhyne, the technology behind it actually comes from a Canadian firm, Lancaster Wind Systems, based in the Edmonton, Alberta, suburb of Niksu. The company last fall won a $500,000 grant from the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation, a nonprofit that is funded through the provincial government from fees collected from big polluters. The half-million bucks are intended to help construct and test a prototype of the system, which has already been commissioned, in Nisku.

On its website, Lancaster leads with the eye-catching energy storage aspect of its system, but says it offers other benefits over standard wind power as well:

  • The LWS solution uses fewer turbines to generate more energy so fewer turbines required.  As well the LWS solution can be used in areas that produce less wind and do not need to be located in areas that have other value such as tourism and environmental concerns
  • The LWS solution uses torque to generate wind energy rather than horse power.  This allows the turbine to run slower, therefore does not produce as much fatigue damage; as well there is no generator in the tower.  This weight reduction also reduces fatigue damage.
  • The LWS conservatively is able to capture 50-62% of the wind energy.
  • The LWS technology can be applied in both small and large scale projects; anywhere a wind farm is planned or already exists.
  • Combining the LWS improvements in turbine technology with the LWS storage system will reduce capital costs, reduce maintenance costs and generate higher and more consistent revenue over the life of a wind farm.

It’ll be interesting to see if the pilot project verifies these claims — no doubt Winhyne will be watching closely. According to the report out of Wyoming, it’s eyeing having a nine-turbine, approximately 10-megawatt version of the system on private land outside the town of Guernsey, about 100 miles north of Cheyenne, operating by the third quarter of 2014.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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