Windbelts – The Next Cool Energy Technology
Start here to see this revolutionary new technology! I’m not kidding – this is a huge game changer!
Whether you like it or not, our energy landscape is changing. Our children’s energy needs will incorporate all the energy resources we’re currently used to – electricity generated by coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants with automobiles powered by gasoline and diesel. But their energy needs will also be met by a plethora of other sources, such as wind, wave, and solar methods of collecting energy along with cars power by electricity, fuel cells, and possibly alternative fuels like hydrogen and LNG. Today, those energy sources contribute less than 5% of our total energy needs. But, for the next generation, they may contribute 10-25% of the total energy needs in America. Every percentile less hydrocarbon-based fuel that we use represents billions of gallons of oil that we don’t have to import.
One of the biggest obstacles to widespread implementation of any of the alternative energy technologies is the cost of implementation, usually measured as dollars per watt. For example, older solar panels are very costly (usually around $2/w) as are parabolic mirror systems, which also have a large number of moving parts and, thus, high maintenance costs. And big wind turbines, while efficient, are also monumental structures built at great expense with big time maintenance costs. Personally, I really like the promise of wave power because of its constancy. We will always have waves and tides as long as we have the moon. Solar and wind, though, are vexed by inconstancy – the sun sets every night on solar power plants and wind speeds must exceed 12 mph to power a turbine on a typical wind farm. Unfortunately, wave technology is probably about 20 years behind solar in terms of development and has a lot of obstacles to overcome due to the high amount of wear and tear inflicted by the elements.
Wide implementation of any alternative energy can becomes dramatically more effective through tinkering with the equation in one of two ways. The first way is to improve the efficiency of the technology such that it creates many more watts at the same cost. The current record for a solar film is about 20% conversion of sunlight into energy, though commercially available solar cells are only in the low teens of efficiency. On the other side of the equation, we can produce the same or somewhat lower watts (i.e. efficiency), but at a dramatically lower cost. Thus, our $/w ratio is greatly improved on either the dollars-in side of the equation or the energy-out side of the equation. Alter either one and the equation behind the technology starts to look promising.
Here’s an example – it currently costs about $20,000 to $38,000 to place enough solar panels on your home to provide 4 kilowatts of power, about what a standard middle-class American home consumes. A German company just developed a new thin-film solar technology earlier this year which can probably produce nearly as much energy, but for only half the cost. While it doesn’t enable a typical American family to live entirely off the grid, it is more affordable and has a payback period that’s not measured in decades. This technology is still in the lab, so it’ll probably be a few more years before we see it commercially available. (An irony of this scenario is that relatively sunless Germany is one of the foremost leaders in solar technology due to the generous government subsidies in the wider context of energy consumption. IMO, that’s reason enough to consider our own subsidies so that we don’t get left behind on one of the 21st-century’s important industries.)
Now, there’s an even more exciting new breakthrough in the area of wind energy. It’s called the windbelt, invented by Shawn Frayne. I seriously hope that Shawn makes a mint on this idea. But he seems to be taking the even more laudable path of Dr. Jonas Salk, who never exploited his polio vaccine for personal gain. A windbelt is essentially an aeolian harp string covered in the proper energy producing magnetic compounds which, when buffeted by the wind, wavers near conducting elements on the sides of the windbelt. Voila! It produces 10- to 30- times more energy than a turbine. Plus, it’s extremely cheap and easy to make and maintain while requiring only slight winds, rather than the gusty 10+ mph required by turbines.
With proper configuration, you can build them into windfarms. But you could also use this technology for really interesting applications. For example, smart sensors in the HVAC ducts of many of today’s “green buildings” require you to change the batteries every couple of years. Factoring the cost of the batteries and the cost of the maintenance staff, it’s a couple thousand bucks over the life of the sensor. Now, with a tiny windbelt attached to the sensor, you could create recharging sensors that don’t need any light at all, using just a breath of wind from standard HVAC ventilation systems.
I’d love to hear your feedback! Cheers,
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