IP Information & News

The technologies helping wind power compete with fossil fuels

Dr Elizabeth Hynes

By Dr Elizabeth Hynes

Patent Assistant

Boasting new technologies and investment, is wind power set to become the dominant renewable sector? Recent analysis suggests that utilising offshore wind farms at depths suitable for fixed foundations could generate 36,000 terawatt hours of electricity a year — much more than the 23,000 terawatt hours a year we need to satisfy global energy demands.

No wind, no fee

Yet wind energy has a similar drawback to other weather-dependent energy sources — no wind, no electricity.

Generating hydrogen fuel from seawater provides an attractive solution to this problem. Offshore wind turbines can operate dually as electricity generators and hydrogen fuel producers. Hydrogen fuel generated while the wind is blowing effectively stores the kinetic energy of the wind as chemical energy, so it can be pumped back to shore for use when needed.

Offshore-wind-farms.jpg#asset:2940

Coupled with falling prices for wind turbines, which have dropped by more than 30% over the past three decades, wind power may finally be able to compete with the convenience and cost of fossil fuels. This is something that all renewable energy sources struggle with due to reliance on existing infrastructure. With a new 53bn barrel oil field having been unearthed in Iran, it’s less likely that the risk of running out of oil will be a sufficient motivator to adopt renewables, even though this is needed to curb global warming.

However, there are plenty of outstanding ideas transforming the capabilities of wind power and making a strong case for its more widespread use.

Gone with the wind — the latest wind power innovations

Where water is too deep for fixed foundation wind turbines to be built, floating wind turbines are becoming a real option. Europe’s second floating wind farm is currently being constructed off the coast of Portugal to take advantage of the stronger winds experienced offshore. Excitingly, the practice is now said to be “at the cusp of large-scale commercialisation”.

Floating-wind-turbines.jpg#asset:2941

Wind turbines can also now be built much taller. Due to the earth’s wind shear effects, wind speeds increase at greater heights, allowing increased power generation. Some recent designs even reach the height of the Eiffel Tower. The rotor blades are designed according to the same principles as an airplane wing, though they have a twisted profile. The efficiency of wind turbines is improved by automatic adaptation of the blades to changing wind speeds. This is done, for example, by rotating the rotor blades into a low wind to increase the amount of energy extracted, or by decreasing the rotor profile in the wind direction to avoid damage by strong winds. This is known as pitch control and the rotor blades can even be designed to generate turbulence that disrupts lift when wind speeds are too high.

Some other key developments include the use of solid silver slip rings, rather than wearable plating, and silver in brushes. Both of these components contribute to electrical communication between the stationary and rotating elements. Silver provides enhanced durability in the harsh conditions of offshore farms. Ultra-capacitors offer longer lifetimes than lead-acid batteries in emergency pitch controls and better performance can also be achieved by the use of tapered, rather than spherical, bearings.

Protect your research assets

It’s no surprise that innovations in wind power are coming thick and fast — in 2018, global investment in wind was USD 135 billion. In terms of renewables, this was second only to the USD 140 billion investment in solar energy. Combined, global investment in renewables in 2018 reached USD 290 billion, which exceeded the investment in fossil fuels.

Patent and registered design protection is invaluable in this active and growing field and can help your company to secure a share of this investment pot.

If you have an innovation in wind turbine technology, our physics and engineering expertise can contribute to a strong patent. Get in touch with me at elh@udl.co.uk to find out more.

Related articles

You may also be interested in these...

Patents

22-10-2019

Can IP speed-up new technology adoption in the recycling industry?

We explore bioplastics to investigate the lag between innovation and adoption in recycling.

Read more

Patents

19-09-2019

Solar energy and the photovoltaics challenge

Solar energy is key to transforming our energy system, but why hasn't it done so already?

Read more

Patents

11-09-2019

Seven creative ways to combat climate change — what we can learn from patent activity

Could one of these seven creative inventions successfully mitigate the effects of climate change?

Read more

Website by Extreme