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Micro-wind turbines take off

Wind power: coming to a rooftop near you?
Wind power: coming to a rooftop near you?

The Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Hong Kong and Motorwave Limited have jointly developed a new micro-wind turbine which can start generating electricity at wind speeds as low as 2 metres per second and can be installed on balconies at home or rooftops of buildings.

The technology is a result of collaboration of Dr Dennis Y C Leung and Dr Michael K H Leung at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, HKU, and French inventor Mr Lucien Gambarota, founder and President of Motorwave Limited.

"To date, renewable energy generators have been too expensive and too complex to be used by individual consumers. Our philosophy is to make renewable energy accessible in terms of price and technology, so that everyone can play a role in improving our environment," explained Mr Lucien Gambarota, the inventor of the micro-wind turbine.

"A prototype of the micro-wind turbine has been built and tested recently in a HKU wind tunnel to establish the operational characteristics of the machine. As the design is suitable for mass production, the cost will be very competitive and products will be soon available. You and I will be able to choose to help the environment by harnessing wind power and reducing greenhouse gases," added Dr Dennis Leung.

The beauty of the micro-wind turbine technology is that it allows energy to be harnessed at wind speeds as low as 2 metres per second. Conventional small wind turbines are designed to have rotor blades which require large spaces to operate in and need to be located away from populated areas. They start generating power at wind speeds of around 4 metres per second, and require wind speeds of over 7 metres per second in order to be efficient. The average wind speed in most urban areas throughout the world is only 5 metres per second.

By using specially designed plastic gearwheels, just 26 cm in diameter, with a small generator, a micro-wind turbine can be arranged in any array of shapes and sizes, up to thousands of square meters. They can be located where conventional small wind turbines would not be allowed.

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Conventional small wind turbines only work 20-40% of the time due to variations in wind speed, whereas the micro-wind turbines can operate 80% of the time (in both weak and strong wind conditions).

The electricity generated by a micro-wind turbine is first transmitted and stored in a battery; and through the battery, the electricity can be used to drive home electrical appliances.

The developers claim that the cost of the micro-wind turbine system is only 10% - 20% of current small wind turbine system, and can potentially be recouped in less than two years.

Motorwave Limited will be donating a portion of the revenue raised from the sale of the micro-wind turbines to HKU for further research in renewable energy technologies.

Source: Technology Horizons
Date Published: March 16, 2007