Apparently Japanese researchers have found a way to make wind turbines three times more efficient by making a simple design adjustment called a “wind lens”. I say “apparently” because I have seen this story discussed a number of times, yet have not seen any experts (other than the Japanese researchers) weigh in on this new innovation.
However, if the wind lens revolutionizes wind technology as much as some have claimed, wind energy could become an increasingly dominant player in the renewable energy sector. In fact, it could very well change how the United States views electricity generation altogether.
But let’s take a closer look at the wind lens.
Wind Lens Technology
The “wind lens” itself is a circular brim that goes around the spinning turbine blades. The new design accelerates the wind flow when it passes through the turbine, forcing the blades to spin faster and thus generate more energy.
The new technology would make the wind turbines radically more efficient, thus pushing the cost per kilowatt-hour way down. Already the price for wind energy is roughly on par with coal in some regions, but a three-fold increase in wind energy generation could make the cost even lower.
It seems like a curiously simple design addition which purports to revolutionize the adoption of wind technology. But it still begs the question: why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?
I suppose even the simplest of ideas can get missed sometimes. But the prospect of a wind turbine which is three times more efficient offers some enticing possibilities for US energy generation.
A recent article by Karl Burkart at the Mother Nature Network went into great detail regarding the benefits of adopting the wind lens for U.S. energy projects. According to the article, the U.S. possesses 2.2 million km² of land with high wind potential. If the country were to only develop 20% of its wind resources using traditional wind technology, it could yield an extraordinary 8.7 billion megawatts, or 1/3 of America’s electricity needs. But if the US were to utilize the wind lens, it could supply all the electricity needs of its population while still only developing 20% of its wind resources.
Putting it this way almost makes it sound like the wind lens has solved the U.S’s energy problems indefinitely. But there are still some major challenges, even with widespread utilization of the wind lens.
Wind Energy Challenges
For starters, wind energy is still an intermittent form of energy that may not ever be able to provide 100% of our energy needs. I have still not heard of an effective way to store wind energy so that it can become a 24/7 energy source. I know that Germany has come up with a way to store wind energy in its mountains, but obviously this idea is not transferrable to every location.
There’s also public opinion to overcome; some people simply don’t like the look of large wind-farms.
And of course, there is always the potential for birds to fly into the turbine, causing almost certain death.
So in the end I am cautiously optimistic about the ability of the wind lens to push us on a greener energy path. However, I don’t think it will ever be feasible (or even desirable) to use wind energy for 100% of our energy needs as was implied by Burkart. Our best course of action would be to implement an effective but well-diversified portfolio consisting of several renewable energy forms, including wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro.
What are your thoughts on the wind lens? Do you think it will revolutionize wind technology?
Image: snapshot from video