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Micro power revolution set to blow in

Timothy Chui

Friday, March 16, 2007

Technological advances pioneered at the University of Hong Kong have removed barriers to wind power in the territory, while allowing companies or industries to generate their own renewable energy.

The micro-wind turbine technology - developed jointly by the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the university and Motorwave - is small enough for private company use, and the turbine can operate at wind speeds as low as one meter per second.

Micro-turbine inventor Lucien Gambarota said Thursday the new compact designs, with a rotor diameter of 25 centimeters, were more effective than conventional wind turbines with a rotor diameter of 50 meters, such as Hong Kong Electric's monolith wind turbine on Lamma Island.

The miniature windmills will allow users from all sectors to reduce energy costs while reducing carbon emissions from mainstream power use.

The cost of the new mini-turbines will only be 10 to 20 percent of conventional windmills and could be recouped within two years, according to HKU.

Hong Kong's varied topography would not present space or wind-access barriers to the smaller wind turbines as it would with larger windmills.

Wind-tunnel tests have confirmed that micro-turbines arranged within a surface area of one square meter could generate 131 kilowatt-hours a year, capable of powering a television for seven hours.

Gambarota - who also developed the California Fitness concept of harvesting human energy during exercise - said conventional wind turbines had a very strict range of operation, and are unable to generate power if the wind speed was too low, or forced to shut down when high wind speeds threatened to tear the giant windmills apart.

Vigorously tested at HKU for use in urban areas with low wind speeds, the miniature windmills have been proved to work in a wider range of wind speeds, proportionately capable of generating from two to 10 times the power of conventional windmills and especially adapted for low wind speeds prevalent in areas such as Tsim Sha Tsui.

HKU associate professor Dennis Leung Yiu-cheong, who helped develop the technology, said the reduction of emissions from pollution sources was of paramount importance.

"You and I will be able to choose to help the environment by harnessing wind power and reducing greenhouse gases," he said.

The micro-turbines can be arranged in rows or walls, increasing the area collecting wind power.

The edges of the micro-turbines resemble a gear, allowing more than one to be connected.

Doug Woodring, vice chairman of the environmental department of the American Chamber of Commerce, said that, besides power generation, the micro-turbines could power water pumps, create air pressure at posts on remote roads for inflating tires and provide a clean power source for desalinization.

Woodring, also the vice president of Motorwave, said the variety of colors available for the micro-turbines provided advertising opportunities. Properly arranged color-coordinated arrays could generate power while spelling out messages.

The Hong Kong Sea School in Stanley will be the first in the territory to utilize the new technology.

Split into two phases, the first half of the program will have 360 micro- turbines covering 20 square meters, able to realize a potential of 6.5kw daily.

The potential 2.3 megawatt-hours generated annually would also reduce carbon dioxide by 1,420 kilograms.

Pending the success of the first phase, a second phase has been proposed to bring the total number of turbines to more than 1,240.

The World Wildlife Fund's Hoi Ha Marine Reserve is studying plans to install the turbines in an effort to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

Clear the Air chairman Christian Masset wondered whether the new technology would be able to break the stranglehold Hong Kong's two power companies have on the market.

Unless the scheme of control between the government and power companies was revamped, there was little room for small competitors, Masset said.





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