Fantasy Wind Turbines or If It’s Too Good To Be True . . .

By Paul Gipe

German engineering professor Robert Gasch calls them fantasy wind turbines. These are the inventions–or contraptions–that bedevil serious wind turbine advocates. They are the “revolutionary” inventions that periodically rise up from the dead whenever the price of oil goes up or there’s a “power crisis” somewhere in the world.

The following has been adapted from Wind Energy Basics by Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 2009.

Very few of these ideas are new, and certainly none of them are “revolutionary”. While some of these inventions may spring from well-intentioned inventors, others are the brainchilds of fast-buck artists of–shall we say–questionable reputations.

It’s often difficult for the uninitiated to tell the difference and therein lies the problem. How to separate the real from the imaginary, the fraudulent from the worthwhile.

Below are some tips for spotting these questionable products. The most important tip to keep in mind is that from Robert Gasch. If there is a new wind turbine, no one should pay the slightest attention to it until they “build it, measure it, and publish” the results. Until then, it’s just hot air–and nothing more.

How can you identify a “questionable” wind turbine design?

  • Hype High–Experience Low
  • Aggressive Marketing–Look for Multi-Level Schemes
  • Pyramid Schemes (see above)
  • “Get in on the Ground Floor Now”
  • New Design– “Not Like Those Others”
  • “New” Patents
  • Targeted at Unsophisticated Market (People who don’t know a Wind Turbine from Shinola)
  • “Works @ 2 m/s”!
  • Drag Devices (Squirrels in a Cage)
  • Ducted Turbines! (Vortec)
  • It is Silent (No Wind Turbine is Silent)
  • It Does Not Kill Birds or Bats (This is one of the Most Disreputable Tactics)
  • Fancy Web Sites–Are Always Cheaper than Hardware

What lessons have we learned from 30 years of modern wind turbine development?

There are

  • No Panaceas
  • No Cheap Solutions
  • No Breakthroughs–No Miracles
  • Numbers Matter (Wind Energy is Always about Numbers)
  • Experience Matters (If They Haven’t been Building these things for Years then How Do You Know that it Works)
  • Size Matters (You can’t get Blood from a Turnip nor a lot of Electricity from a Small Rotor)

What we learned from the Vortec ducted turbine disaster for example.

  • Always Check the Numbers (Vortec: The Numbers Didn’t Add Up)
  • Always Check the References (Vortec: References Discredited in the USA)
  • Always Google (Vortec: Ducted Turbine Critics on the Web)
  • Always Go to the Library. . . Or to Your Neighborhood Bookstore! (Lots of Wind Books Now Available)

In sum always be wary of “New” Designs. There’s rarely anything truly “new” under the sun–or in the wind.