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Farming the wind efficiently

  • Story Highlights
  • Wind power is currently the world's fastest growing energy technology
  • New wind turbine designs are more efficient and attractive
  • 'Stormblade Turbine' may make the traditional style of wind turbine redundant
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By Matthew Knight for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A typical exchange about wind farms tends to go like this: 'Are you in favor of wind farms?' 'Yes, of course I am...so long as they're nowhere near my house'. Nevertheless, wind turbines are fast-becoming an important piece in the energy puzzle, contributing a growing percentage to our overall energy needs.

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A figure from Anthony Gormley's art installation 'Another Place' stands in front of the turbines of the new Burbo Bank off-shore wind farm in the River Mersey, Liverpool, UK.

Wind power is currently the world's fastest growing energy technology. According to the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) onshore wind farms are on course to provide 5 percent (3000 megawatts) of the UK's energy requirements by 2010. The UK Government -- who are investing around £1 billion in wind farms -- has stated that it wants 10 percent of energy to come from renewable resources by the same date. And by 2020 Europe as a whole hopes to produce 20 percent of its energy through renewable sources.

But opposition to wind power comes from some unlikely sources. The Germans, who are the world's biggest producers of wind energy, remain skeptical about environmental targets.

A 2005 study by the German government's energy agency concluded that wind farms were an expensive and inefficient way of reducing greenhouse gases. And a report in last month's Guardian newspaper suggests that the UK Government are concerned about the practicality of the European Union's renewable energy targets too.

If charges of inefficiency weren't enough, there's the aesthetic to consider as well. Wind farms are ugly say detractors, as well as being noisy and disruptive to the bird population. And smaller wind turbines attached to the rooftops of suburbia don't fair much better, attracting sour-faced glances from disapproving neighbors in the same way satellite dishes did a few years ago.

But new designs which are coming onto the market may make these arguments redundant as engineers create ever more efficient and attractive models.

Viktor Jovanovic's Stormblade Turbine is a revolutionary new design of wind turbine. It looks more like a jet engine than a propeller and promises unparalleled levels of performance and efficiency. Its design allows it to operate in high winds -- unlike its propeller counterpart which is switched off at speeds above 60 mph -- allowing it to harvest the most profitable winds.

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London-based Jovanovic was inspired by conversations he used to have with his father -- also an engineer and inventor -- when he was a boy. "It was only when my Dad died that I revisited the ideas we talked about," he told CNN. "And then I got thinking about wind turbines."

The Stormblade Turbine has been in development since 2001. Jovanovic explained to CNN how it works. "The internal aerodynamics creates a pressure stream, which is directed radially towards the center," he said. "This induces centrifugal reaction force in the airflow that causes the stream field to expand strongly downstream of the rotor. The higher mass flow and higher velocity reduction behind the rotor result in a higher energy output from the wind turbine."

Jovanovic is currently in negotiations with a large multi-national company and has plans to make smaller models, which he says could be used for individual households.

Vertically challenged

A Wyoming based company, Terra Moya Aqua (TMA) is taking a different approach to wind turbine design. It has designed a vertical axis wind energy turbine which they hope will become the most efficient model on the market. Easier to operate, quieter and free from ground resonance, the company believes their design has many advantages over propeller-style turbines.

"The turbine is far more robust than traditional models of turbine", TMA President Duane Rasmussen told CNN.

Unlike large propeller turbines, which require running repairs to their blades after only a few years, Rasmussen believes that the TMA turbine has the ability to run for decades without major maintenance work.

"Because the turbine looks like a building it also means the avian population is not in danger," Rasmussen said.

The turbines aren't a blot on the landscape either. As Rasmussen points out: "Some propeller turbines reach up to 500 feet [150 meters]. You can see that from a long way away!"

The project began 11 years ago when Rasmussen teamed up with the turbine's inventor and TMA Chairman, Ron Taylor. Over the past three years, Rasmussen has traveled the world promoting the design across the U.S., Europe and in Africa. With orders in the pipeline, Rasmussen hopes it won't be long before the turbine is providing more efficient energy for thousands of people.

Like Jovanovic, TMA are designing smaller devices capable of meeting the demands of individual customers.

Critics of wind farms often point out that wind power is unreliable. And it is currently true that power cannot be stored.

But Jovanovic believes the technology is improving. "Storing power in batteries and hybrid wind farm power supply plants are two possibilities," he told CNN. The hybrid solution transfers the power generated by a turbine to a hydro-electric power station where the energy can be stored for use at a later date.

Urban energy

Problems of storing energy are negated once turbines move into towns and cities, as power can flow directly to supply the surrounding area. A UK based company Quiet Revolution Ltd is currently inundated with orders for its new wind turbine.

Initially developed by XCO2 -- a London-based engineering design company -- the QR5 is a five meter high vertical axis wind turbine which utilizes a triple-helix formation. And unlike horizontal axis turbines the QR5 doesn't have to track round to catch the wind. Made from carbon fiber and epoxy resin it is also light, quiet and can, say the company, generate 10,000 kilowatt hours a year.

Already popping up on commercial buildings in towns and cities all over the UK -- the first was installed in South London in 2006 -- the company is now developing a smaller 2.5kw domestic version.

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Earlier this year, Marks Barfield Architects unveiled a new wind turbine concept that they hope might resolve some of London's spiraling energy costs. Standing 40 meters high, the Y-shaped frame would house five vertical axis wind turbines. Each tower would would have the capacity to create 50,000 kWh each year.

The creation of a new generation of wind turbines is forcing critics to reassess their objections to wind power. It may end up playing more than just a bit part in the 21st century, as the calls to reduce Co 2 emissions become evermore urgent. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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