Another Eggbeater Oh My–Saskatoon’s Lux: More Over-the-top VAWT Hype

By Paul Gipe

It must be a slow news week out on the Canadian Prairies. No big city mayor smoking crack or threatening to kill someone in Saskatchewan to grab attention. Instead they’re touting another—yes another—Vertical Axis Wind Turbine (VAWT) “invention”.

The news media is agog over Saskatoon’s Glen Lux who claims to have won an “international design award” for his skeletally thin Darrieus wind turbine.

It’s one thing when the hometown paper, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix features a local boy with a new invention. It’s something else again when the once-respected CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster, does so. Without any independent reporting, the CBC simply reposts the company’s own hype about the “international award” and the inventor’s remarkable new wind turbine.

Alas, hope springs eternal when it comes to VAWTs of various forms, or at least ignorance of what has gone before certainly does.

The news accounts, the company’s web site, and the award application are replete with unsubstantiated claims.

I’ll leave the technical debunking to Mike Barnard. He has much more patience for it than I and he’s more thorough.

I will simply point out the most obvious.

Lux, for example, says “his design costs half as much as conventional turbines and multiple units could be spaced closer together to extract more power and take up less land.” Of course, he can say whatever he wants. Canada is a free country. But that doesn’t mean what he says is true, or is likely to be true. As he himself says, they only have a small prototype so nothing has been sold to compare costs or used commercially to determine how much land they actually use. Or, more importantly, whether it works at all.

Lux’s entry in Tech Briefs’ Create the Future Design Contest 2013 is titled The Paradigm Shift in Wind Turbine Technology. Similarly, the Star-Phoenix described the Lux’s entry as “a radical new wind turbine”. The “invention” is none of these. It doesn’t shift any paradigms, and it isn’t radical, or even new.

Darrieus wind turbines have been known since the 1920s. The Canadians spent more money on research—both public and private–on Darrieus wind technology than any other country worldwide. It didn’t do them any good either. Only a handful were ever installed. The one or two extant haven’t operated for decades. One has become a tourist attraction in Quebec as a static sculpture. That’s probably the most successful Canadian VAWT to date.

Well then, what about that “Nasa” international design award? Nasa Tech Briefs is a web site in a stable of web sites by Tech Briefs Media Group. It has nothing to do with Nasa, though it does show the Nasa logo on its pages.

Thus, Lux, Tech Briefs Media Group, and the “sustainability award” all play on the positive association with a well-known corporate logo that remains a symbol of American technical ingenuity. In short, they have nothing to do with Nasa and simply use the logo and name to hype their respective products.

I should not need to point out that wind technology developed by Nasa failed miserably in the field and is one reason why all successful wind turbines today have their roots in Danish technology—not American.

True VAWT believers will howl, I know. But my break is over and I have to get back to work.