Bringing wind power to where it was never before imagined

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The drive brought on by impending disaster to make local power more resilient than utility power has a good chance of making renewable energy truly disruptive and competitive.

Author: Jim Smyth, CEO of Airsynergy writes that need is driving the market for wind energy in places never thought possible and how the end user now is becoming ever more empowered

Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention – or the momentum behind change. And sometimes it takes a catastrophic weather disaster such as 2012’s Superstorm Sandy for people to really look to innovative methods and disruptive technologies to fuel change and, in this case, also in urban environments.

Let’s recap how bad things were in its aftermath: the devastated shoreline and flood zones took front and centre and the stories of those directly affected were heartbreaking. But the impact of Sandy was felt well beyond the disaster areas.

More than eight million people lost power for several days – many for weeks – resulting in both economic damage and personal suffering. Within days, the most basic of needs were no longer met. There was a gasoline shortage throughout the metropolitan area, not because of a lack of petrol, but because the majority of the region’s fueling stations could not pump gas without electricity.

Some may remember the queues in New York and New Jersey of people carrying cans to fill with gasoline, required to operate home generators. Motorists and pedestrians swarmed to the stations that did have electricity and the National Guard and State police were called to supervise order, sometimes to no avail. The images were of a dystopian future and demonstrated how fragile societies truly are when there is a systemic failure of the power grid.

Leading technology strategist Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School said in his book ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’, that for clean energy to be “disruptive”, it must offer customers new functions and values that the market does not now deliver. Sandy could have provided an inflection point for many people in the United States.

Renewable energy in the past, has been ‘a nice to have’ product to reduce carbon emissions and/or a must have for the green enthusiast with deep pockets who likes the idea of self-sufficiency without damaging the environment; but now there are clear practical needs which must be met – the need to find new ways to produce power to protect society at times of crisis.

 

New focus on energy needs in times of crisis embracing innovation

Now minds are focused on how power outages can be mitigated in dramatic weather and how quickly power can be restored. Sandy may end up being one of the singular moments where the importance of off-grid solutions in urban and suburban environments suddenly had the movers and shakers looking for innovative, alternative solutions.

For example, the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have all put plans for multimillion investments in place to ensure more resilient power systems in critical infrastructure and in micro-grids, to firm up local power systems during outages.

Specifically, federal and state officials want to see how to get more resilient power to gas stations, which when they lose power cause the type of chaos experienced in the US days after the storm and which nobody is in a hurry to repeat.

And, the city of New York’s “after action” report called for more resilient power for streetlights and better power plans for multi-family housing.

This drive brought on by impending disaster to make local power more resilient than utility power has a good chance of making renewable energy truly disruptive and competitive.

And New York will soon showcase a new technology that may go a long way in addressing some of those issues currently under scrutiny. Airsynergy, is launching to market across 50 sites in New York, UK, Ireland and the Caribbean.

Flagship projects will see the Airsynergy’s hybrid remote power unit (RPU) with built-in rechargeable power source showcased in 16 prominent sites in New York. Others in the US will be installed in Florida, Maine, Carolina and Rhode Island.

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For the first time urban environments and remote locations can enjoy a permanent, renewable lighting solution completely free from an external power source.

The off-grid product is ideal for providing reliable, independent light on roadways, walkways, parking lots and recreation areas and has added design capabilities to host cellular stations and showcase company branding. There are no trenching costs and the RPU is easy to install and maintain with tilt-up tower technology.

But, crucially, what this new product also offers if the fact that the unit comes with the option of being transportable, providing municipalities with reserve power for critical times or emergencies where needed which also makes it attractive for the armed forces operating in foreign countries.

Urban environments with their so-called ‘dirty’ wind were once no-go areas for turbines but all that is set to change with disruptive technologies such as the Airsynergy turbine that can be placed in locations with as little as 3 m/s in urban locations with distorted wind sources. This dramatically increases the availability of location in which the RPUs can be placed relative to traditional turbines.

 

Demand to power remote corners of the globe

But, it is not just cities and emergency power situations where innovative renewable solutions are needed. It is clear that off grid power solutions and renewable energy needs to reach remote corners of the world and areas with low wind is as great a need.

According to the World Bank about 1.2 billion people across the world have no access to modern energy and 2.8 billion people use smokey, traditional cook stoves that damage health.

Similarly, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that, worldwide, 1.3 billion people – a population equivalent to that of the entire OECD – continue to live without access to electricity. The IEA also pints out that this is equivalent to 18 per cent of the global population and 22 per cent of those living in developing countries.

Nearly 97 per cent of those without access to electricity live in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia. The largest populations without electricity are in India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and Indonesia.

There is also a desire for energy self-sufficiency in more developed economies. Author and off-grid activist Nick Rosen has suggested a sharp increase in the numbers living off-grid – currently between 75,000-100,000 in the UK and more than a million in America.

All these scenarios create a world that is in great need of renewable energy products that make economic sense and can produce the power required for specific needs.

And, it was around this time last year that US investment bank Morgan Stanley announced that the off-grid era had arrived: falling prices for renewable energy equipment and rising prices for energy supplied by power companies fundamentally altering the business model of the trillion-dollar electricity industry.

At Airsynergy, we set out to create a turbine that would make economical sense without tariffs and could be purchased at a low capital cost and which would allow for energy independence that can change people’s lives for the better. It is about empowering the end user.

But, we knew that success would depend on the turbines making clear, measurable economic sense on all levels as too many products in the past had been too heavily reliant on tariffs, grants or wealthy end users, and also made promises about energy production that were exaggerated or inflated.

Perhaps the biggest economic benefit and No 1 selling point of this disruptive technology when scaled up to our wind turbines such the AS-6 is that it allows people to fix energy costs for decades at dramatically lower prices than offered by utilities.

By doubling the Annual Energy Production (AEP) compared with conventional systems, the AS6 will produce power at less than €0.10/kWh (on 5m/sec wind site). This supports a faster payback (typically five to seven years – site dependent) and the opportunity for the consumer to lock in their energy costs for up to 20 years.

The Salesian College in Celbridge has secured the very first Airsynergy 6KW turbine, which is being added as part of an extension at the college and which will produce some 20,000 KWs of power over the year and will be installed over the next few months ahead of official and full product launch.

Unlike conventional ‘small wind’ turbines, whose adoption to date has been driven predominantly by ‘green’ motives, the AS6 provides a compelling economic case when compared with the cost of power from the grid. For the first time, it makes wind energy cheaper than fossil fuels and allows a small wind turbine to compete on the cost of power.

By moving beyond ‘green buyers’, the AS6 greatly enlarges the size of the addressable market for wind in commercial enterprises (e.g. agriculture, retail, hotel and leisure) and energy intensive households.

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This technology will enable wind power to be generated closer to the point of use, rather than large distances from the customer that could save power transmission losses of up to 25 per cent.

The Airsynergy TES4 (Total Energy Solution 4kW product), rather than just being a turbine, provides a complete energy solution affording domestic users the independence to go off-grid with a reliable battery and provide their own electricity and heat, and conservatively achieve all that for less than €0.10c/kWh (on 5m/sec wind site) The Airsynergy TES 4 provides secured, reliable power which can be fixed for decades.

 

Power output and validation

But, disruptive technology does not have history to measure success and so the processes and people behind the technologies as well as both in-house and third party validations become vital.

Like most in our industry we initially put a lot of focus and weight into traditional third party validations. At an early stage in our prototypes we secured interim independent validation from Garrad Hassan now part of DNV-GL that showed that the Airsynergy turbine produces 100 per cent more power than that from comparable turbines with less wind for only about a 20 per cent additional cost.

But, as we get market ready we have taken a different stance and instead adopt cutting-edge technologies. Pentagon Solutions – our preferred product design software supplier – provides an extensive range of the SOLIDWORKS product portfolio including 3D CAD, Data Management and high-end Simulation (FEA) solutions and these are what we now employ to measure and validate performance. The technologies we use such as ANSYS are the same as those preferred by the aeronautical industry and Formula 1 to evaluate aerodynamics and speed.

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The AS6 power curve, verified by Plysim, also confirms the power and efficiency of the product with an annual power output of circa 20,000kWh, representing around twice the annual published output of other leading 6kW turbines on the market.

As well as utilising the best technology on the market we have in place rigorous processes and seek out the best people, and that team is expanding. Airsynergy recently raised another €4.5 million in its latest funding round, bringing total investment in the company to €10 million. Some of that investment will be deployed to make 10-12 new hires over the next 12 months and many of those will be in engineering, design and business development.

Other third-party validations and product innovation awards also help such as the Technology of the Year award we secured from Engineers Ireland. All these external ‘thumbs up’ help provide a level of comfort with the new.

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A long road

Bringing our products to market from concept to a manufactured product has taken seven years and we continue to refine our products all the time and will continue to do so as Phase 1 product launch gets set for full steam ahead.

However, now we have conducted so much R&D, have a world-class team in place headed by Tommy Williamson who joined us from Kingspan where he was head of product development, and sourced manufacturers in China, France and Ireland, we can create, patent-protect and commercialise new product designs much more quickly.

And with our licence partners in place in the UK, Ireland, US and the Caribbean, and talks well under way with partners in South America, Scandinavia and continental Europe we have the outreach to sell our products. A brave new world is happening right here, right now.