WindPower 2008: oscillating entrepreneurs and lots of politics

The American Wind Energy Association’s annual meeting has officially blown out of town (headed for Minneapolis next year) but here are a few parting thoughts:

oscillating_wind There’s more than one way to catch air. (Image courtesy of WindFlo LLC)

There’s no shortage on entrepreneurship in wind power: Lots of small, interesting companies on the floor of the show (too bad more people couldn’t get in — a reduced price admittance to just the floor one afternoon would have been good). Many small companies without exhibition booths, too, such as Windflo LLC, a Bonita Springs, Fla. start-up that is proposing wind turbines that oscillate (turn back-and-forth) rather than spin all the way around.
The advantages, according to founder George Syrovy, include lower costs because the “oscillating windmill with wind-paddles” can be more densely placed on land than the common three-blade turbines, they “stay closer to the sweet spot in the wind by oscillating” and because they aren’t top-heavy (the turbine is oriented vertically at the base) they’re easier to build and maintain. Syrovy said the company is still looking to build a full-scale prototype for what will be a niche product, perhaps to place between larger turbines in traditional wind farms.
Wind isn’t a constant: That may seem like a big “no kidding, idiot” sort of comment, but I mean that just as regions can see long-term warming or cooling trends so too can they see big wind power shifts. Kenneth Westrick, CEO of 3Tier, a Seattle firm that helps wind farm operators track and predict wind patterns (the company does this for about a third of all wind power in the U.S., including many Texas projects) said this was the case in Europe.
A number of projects there were planned based on data gathered in the 1990s during a period of particularly high winds. The projects were built but they didn’t produce as expected because the wind trend had changed. That cost a lot of people serious money.
There’s plenty of politics in wind: Given that it’s an industry that in the U.S. relies heavily on a 2-cent-per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit for a good chunk of its revenue, that makes sense. But it was somewhat surprising to realize how much lobbying the industry does. Interestingly, more people at the conference talked about creating a time-line to wean the business off the production tax credit than at any other forum I’ve attended.