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Renewable Waste and Energy From Egg Beater Wind Turbines

Chris d Craiker AIA

Solar generated energy has become the primary renewable energy source in America and number one electric energy source in California. Last year solar-generated renewable energy surpassed coal as a major national energy source. As technology evolves, as soon as solar panels are installed, they’re practically obsolete.  Already wineries and industrial warehouses are creating solar panel roof and hillside farms. This is not the only renewable resource available in Northern California and the North Bay. While wind turbines continue to be the ‘Darling of the Midwest’ California is catching up as the winds blow more robustly in our valleys.

Wind harvesting is not new. The ancient farmers of Mesopotamia and Egypt used windmills to raise water. The Dutch have been using wind for energy for years and are the champions of developing North Sea wind farms to generate enough power for 350,000 homes. The two most common wind energy systems are Horizontal-Axis Wind Turbines (HAWTs), “Fans” if you may, and Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines (VAWTs), “Egg Beaters”. HAWTs are usually three blade fans and the most common Nationwide.

Unfortunately, the HAWTs have a relatively short life and constantly need maintenance. The stress on the blades is huge, often failing within five years, and the blades end up going to the dump. Wind turbine blades can be up to 200 feet long, are often made out of balsa wood, aluminum and fiberglass. They are extremely strong, but they still need to be decommissioned on a regular basis. In the next 25 years as the present production of wind turbine blades continues, we will be producing 47million tons of wasted turbine blades every year. Currently, they are being buried in land fill but that can’t go on.

The same goes for solar panels. As solar energy has evolved, nobody was thinking about recycling outmoded panels and now it has become a major challenge of the industry. One solar panel recycling plant in Yuma, Arizona, can process 7,500 panels a day by crushing and recycling the glass and reclaiming much of the frames and precious metals. That’s about 5% of the daily national trashed panels. While solar is the fastest-growing source of U.S. energy, more than 90% of used panels end up in landfills.

This is an untapped business of recovering the less than obsolete solar panels for reuse in low-income households, multifamily communities and third world countries. Nobody minds buying a used car: why not a slightly used solar panel…if it works?

Finding ways to recycle windmill blades and used solar panels is a major challenge of the industry. In Europe, wind turbine blades are being re-imagined in playgrounds, public shelters, bus shelters, and on the horizon, housing. There’s no reason why we can’t do the same here.

The less represented wind turbine system is VAHTs or vertical “eggbeater” wind turbines. They are less expensive to build, and computer modeling shows that they can be 15% more efficient while generating less turbulence, as environmentalist complain fan-type turbines are killing birds. Their primary forces are concentric and balanced while remaining vertical with fewer guywires. They can be placed closer together like a tree orchard and they access lower wind speeds rather than the higher generated winds of conventional turbines.

​In April 2009, I testified before the Federal Committee on Outer Continental Shelf Resources in San Francisco to discuss the options for offshore alternate energy generation. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s Committee asked if alternate methods of capturing renewable energy such as wave, tidal or wind could help the nations appetite for renewable energy. I pointed out that vertical wind turbines are less visible, less disruptive to marine life and have the potential to generate significant quantities of electricity, possibly more than the mid-western wind tunnel states. While the Obama Administration was anxious to explore alternate energy capture systems, the parade of speakers and politicians warned that renewed off-shore drilling and windmills of any kind could be dangerous to delicate environments of sea floor in habitats, fisheries and the California Coastal economies. The subject was dropped.

While vertical wind turbines may not be in our immediate future to solve our thirst for renewable energy, it can work in tight urban spaces by being integrating into tall buildings facades and between buildings where wind is often generated and since wind blows 24/7, while solar panels are asleep, they can generate energy for lighting or suburban community needs all night.

See more here.

Our future energy will be-must be- renewable but no one source fits all. Multiple sources are evolving every day, as long as we consider all the consequences of their pathway.

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB designed vertical turbine lighting for the First Street Bridge

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