So, today this email arrived.  (Yes, I asked, and he said it was okay to use it on the blog). ‘George’ wants to know:

 Does it make any sense to envision a “wind power” matrix with a large
number of small-to-tiny individual wind turbines slotted in (like eggs
in an egg carton, or CDs in a tower case): little pinwheels, with
integral micro-generators, perhaps only producing a few watts (or
fractions of a watt) each, but overall combining to reach significant
power levels. This is based on two highly efficient contemporary
manufacturing principles: mass production of standard components, and
miniaturization. Is this technically feasible (can micro-turbines be
designed to harvest power from wind in this way?); if so, can the
required micro-turbine generator components be manufactured cheaply
enough? Analogous micro-turbines exist in the form of toy pinwheels (not
designed to produce electricity, but powered into motion by wind);
comparable very small electrical appliances or tools (transforming
electricity into rotary motion: the reverse of the generation process)
like mini-fans or electric tooth-brushes are inexpensive to manufacture.

The first thing that occurs to me is that we need to clear up what you mean by ‘micro-turbine generators’. In the wind ‘industry’ such as it is, the term ‘micro wind’ is already used to refer to small, domestic-sized turbines, such as the Swift 1kW, or the Ampair-type battery-feed systems originally designed for yachts. But the way you describe it, you seem to have in mind something much smaller than this: is this right?

The problem with the original question is that it can be answered ‘yes’, but only as long as you ignore the description, in which case, the answer may well be ‘no’. But there are virtues to your suggestion; enough that I am sure that several people are probably working on such an idea already. The problem is, I am one of those people, and it’s going to be tricky to give too much detail of what my ‘team’ has planned.

The principle of mass production and the economies of scale make lot of sense; if a  company can produce an items in the tens or hundreds of thousands, then costs reduce dramatically. But this is not the whole story; the two other costs of wind energy systems are installation (which is critically important) and grid connection/storage. These are not trivial matters.

There is a second consideration. The main reason investors like ‘big’ wind is that the power available is in proportion to  the swept area of the turning unit (whether it is vertical or horizontal axis); this means that the bigger your ‘prop’, the more power you can generate relative to the size of the unit. For power companies, a micro-system would never compete, in comparable winds, with a single large tower.

But there are other ways of looking at this idea which would make the concept more interesting. it should be possible to mass produce something a bit bigger than a standard ‘micro unit’ – think auto production plants, for example. A ‘loose’ network of these, attached to people’s homes, and linked in some way, could act as a viable alternative to getting your power from a the grid. This kind of ‘distributed micro-grid’ is already being examined.

I can’t say any more for now. It’s New Year’s Eve and our chums have arrived. more on this later. over to the dedicated bloggers for now…

And a Happy Hogmanay to all!

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