Vineyarders Jonathan and Linda M. Haar work in wind power technology, but one thing they share with wind energy opponents is an objection to seeing enormous towers built in pristine places.
And their concern is not just aesthetic, but practical. It would, they reasoned, make much more sense to generate the power as close as possible to where the power is used.
Hence their innovative new turbine, tested for the first time at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport this week: a turbine standing just 20 feet tall, intended to be mounted on city buildings.
Abandon your mental image of a wind turbine as a thing like a propeller blade, rotating on a horizontal axis, elevated on a giant pylon to raise it high in the air where the wind blows strongly.
Their wind turbine is a cylindrical device with three carbon fiber blades, which rotates on a vertical axis. There’s no need to mount it on a pole, because the pre-existing building serves the role of the pole. Because it rotates vertically, not horizontally, it does not have to be reoriented depending on wind direction. It catches the breeze from any direction.
And it stands up to hurricane force winds. The developers know that because they subjected it to a hurricane at 5 a.m. on Monday.
Well, not a real hurricane, a simulated one, created by a Colgan Air Saab turboprop aircraft, which they backed up to the turbine.
“The good news is the turbine passed with flying colors,” said Mrs. Haar.
It was a true Vineyard project, she said. “Everyone here has been so enthusiastic and helpful about this alternative to large-scale wind turbines.
“We did all our computer design work and theoretical analysis and then built a prototype. Then we had to test it, and we realized the only way we could get a hurricane-force wind here on the Vineyard, was to back a plane up to it.
“So in the winter we approached the airport manager, Sean Flynn, and asked if we could put it up at the airport for the test. He said sure.
“The airport commission said yes too, and the airport director and his staff were extremely helpful in getting it set up. She continued:
“It needed a 25-foot truck to get the prototype over from the mainland. Trip Barnes drove the truck himself and helped unload. Kim Baptiste brought his crane over and lowered the shaft into the base. Jimmy Morgan set the footings for us and put the steel foundation down. Arthur Moran helped weld the base.
“Then Colgan Air backed a plane up to it yesterday morning and then revved their engines for quite a while,” she said.
The test had nothing to do with electricity generation. It was strictly to ensure the unit would stand the strain of high winds. You don’t want bits flying off a turbine on the roof of a downtown building.
“We were strictly checking for strength and stability,” Mrs. Haar said.
“Actually, when the plane was up to it, we didn’t want it to spin. The turbine would never be running in that sort of wind; it would burn out the generator. One of the things we wanted to ensure was that the brakes [which shut down the generator when the wind gets too strong] would hold.”
This test passed. The next step is to mount the prototype on a high-rise roof in Boston for about a year, to see if it realizes its projected generating capacity. Negotiations for a site are nearly complete.
As for the generating capacity, she said each turbine would run a 50-kilowatt generator on it, producing enough electricity to power four average homes.
“If you put a small farm of these on a high-rise building’s roof, say eight or 10, we expect it would reduce by 10 per cent the electricity demand off the grid.
“Ten per cent might not sound a lot, but 10 per cent off a 500,000-square-foot building is significant,” she said.
The Haars, 20-year residents of Chilmark, established their company, East Coast Power, several years ago because, she said, “We wanted to contribute a little to getting us off of oil.
“We realized, doing a lot of work in Boston, that there was not a lot of equipment suited to urban areas, where the greatest power demand is.
“The reason we chose this design is that it takes wind from every direction, it doesn’t have to veer into the wind, and you can do it without having to build something of a great height.”
The design allows for the turbine to be broken down easily into its component parts for easier installation.
But best of all is the fact that the machines will actually fit with the environment they’re in.
“There need to be continued efforts to find ways to develop energy that don’t keep inching into our natural areas,” Mrs. Haar said.