Revolutionary new Irish turbine turns a gentle breeze into a profitable gale
Five Cavan brothers have reinvented the wind turbine by thinking small and using a breeze rather than chasing the high winds, writes Tom Prendeville.
CAVAN-BORN Jim Smyth has designed a revolutionary new wind turbine that generates twice as much electricity as a conventional installation. The design – a huge technological breakthrough – allows electricity to be freely produced in places where there is little or no wind.
For years the thinking was that you had to build ever bigger wind turbines – 500-foot tall and more – with huge blades and locate them in windy places such as remote headlands or far out at sea.
In stark contrast, the Granard, Co Longford-based AirSynergy machines are much smaller and cheaper and use the principal of funnels to accelerate wind speed. To ensure that the new type of wind turbines were stable in windy conditions, Jim Smyth had to create a radically new type of aerodynamically stable funnel that resembles a shroud.
In recognition of the achievement, AirSynergy won the Technology of the Year Award at the Engineers Ireland Excellence Awards 2013. The company, which employs 20 people, have licensed out their technology. In the best tradition of great ideas, the rest of the world is now beating a path to their door.
“It all began about six years ago, when I was out having a pint with a few friends,” says Jim.
“At the time my wife was thinking of getting a wind generator for our home in Cavan, and it came up in conversation.
“I thought ‘I can make the wind – the fuel that produces the electricity – go much faster’. I realised that wind-turbine performance could be significantly improved by using many of the same principles I used when designing air-management systems for factories.
“That evening I wrote down the idea. I later patented it – it all started from there.
“Our turbine design doubles the air speed at the rotor, which doubles the electrical power, which means you no longer have to chase the wind.
“Presently only 10pc of the world’s landmass has sufficient wind speed for generation; this technology opens up 80pc of the world – that’s an eightfold increase.”
Following the breakthrough, he set up AirSynergy in 2008 with his four brothers, Andrew, Gerard, David and Peter, along with Adrian Kelly.
“The wind turbine industry has been focused on building ever larger wind turbines and moving them out to remote locations where the wind blows strongest and longest. We are, in effect, able to bring the wind to us, even on low wind sites.
“Presently electricity costs 22c per KW hour. Our machine can produce 1 KW of electricity for less than 10c. The price will never go up, even in 20 years’ time – unless, of course, the government taxes the wind,” says Jim Smyth.
Owing to the enormous construction costs of locating old-fashioned Eiffel-Tower-sized turbines in out-of-the-way places, the vast costs had to be factored into the eventual electricity bill.
In contrast, AirSynergy’s wind turbine can now legitimately claim to be able to produce energy from wind that is now cheaper than fossil fuels.
With payback time in just under five years, it will now be possible to locate turbines close to the end users, which will do away with the infrastructural costs of cross-country inter-connectors. The company also has its eyes on the domestic market.
“In six to nine months time we will be launching a domestic unit. It will be about 30 metres tall and will produce 12,000 KW hours per annum. It will cost (EURO)18,000.
“And in 2015 we are rolling out four new products. We are very excited and have a lot of very big business customers around the world trying to get a licence,” adds Jim Smyth.
As they say, it’s an ill wind…
GRAPHIC: POWER PACK: A close up of Jim’s new design of wind turbine