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September 20, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

News

Local startup develops wind energy prototype

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In an effort to increase the use of sustainable resources, Weaver Wind Energy, a local startup company, is developing a more reliable and effective wind turbine that adjusts with changing weather.The turbine is currently being prototyped on private land in Trumansburg, N.Y. Founder Art Weaver is working with a team of designers, engineers and interns to collect data on voltage levels, wind speeds and energy production. The new model is expected to be on the market in 2014.

“Small wind turbines have not been as resilient as, in my view, they should be,” Weaver said.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, there are currently 38 wind energy projects operating or in development in the state.

Alex Hagen, president of the company, said wind resources could potentially provide 8,000 megawatt-hours of energy annually, yet they are only currently producing about 1,400 MWh.

The company’s aim in creating a more durable turbine is to construct a product that would require less frequent maintenance than those currently on the market, engineer Gary Bush said.

The most common way a turbine fails is when high winds cause the alternator to overheat, Bush said. The new turbine contains an overspeed mechanism that is more prepared to handle changing wind speeds.

“Our goal is to be able to put a wind turbine up and have it last at least 15 years without anyone ever having to touch it,” Bush said.

Focusing on durability rather than increased efficiency would lead to increased productivity over time, Hagen said.

“Let’s say that your wind turbine has some innovation that makes it 10 percent more efficient,” Hagen said. “If that little gizmo breaks or needs service every six months, and your downtime is now 30 percent, that efficiency has been lost. Whereas with our turbine, if it’s running 95 percent of the time, the overall lifetime cost of energy is going to be lower.”

The new small wind turbine can be used in conjunction with traditional energy production, as well as with other sustainable methods such as solar panels, to create a hybrid system that would offset energy costs.

However, In the initial stages, finances can hinder production. Current small wind turbine certification requires meeting a set of global standards of safety and performance at a cost of nearly $150,000.

“The main struggle is just sort of the cost of entry into the market,” Hagen said.

Ed Wilson of the Cornell Sustainable Campus office said for there to be a positive return on the initial investment, a small wind turbine would have to run for at least 20 years.

This durability is what the company hopes to provide. Hagen said there has been no lack of support during the process.

Marguerite Wells, project manager at Black Oak Wind Farms in Enfield, said the local community promotes a variety of renewable energy projects.

“There is such a movement around sustainability culturally,” Wells said. “A location on a windy hilltop helps, but being in a supportive community helps even more.”

Rather than focusing on private small wind turbines on individual properties, the wind farm’s plan is to construct several turbines on one property that will produce around 20 megawatts of power in total. Wells said the company is on track for construction in 2013 and is in negotiation with several community partners that will then buy into the energy shares.

Hagen said the Weaver Wind has been working to continue establishing these connections. Weaver was a judge at a local children’s turbine design competition at the Ithaca Community Gardens in the spring, and last Friday Weaver and Hagen presented at the Johnson Energy Connection at Cornell’s Johnson Business School.

“There is clearly a need for small wind energy, and there is clearly a market,” Weaver said at the JEC presentation. “The question is, how do we do it?”

This article was originally produced in Multimedia Journalism class.