An expert in the aeronautics industry during World War 2 probably could be forgiven if they believed that fighters such as the P-51 Mustang or an RAF Spitfire were close to being the fastest and most advanced planes technologically possible. That is, until the Luftwaffe introduced the world to the jet engine turbine system. Similarly for Wind Energy- how else can the basic 3 blade turbine be engineered to improve on cost and performance? Isn’t there only so much you can do to a technology that is relatively basic?
Well- much like the WW2 Fighter plane analogy- wind energy is now entering the jet engine age. Welcome FloDesign Wind Turbine. The Massachusetts based start up firm has recently emerged onto the public eye with their patented technology that allegedly is 3-4 times more efficient than traditional wind turbines. See informational video here:
Traditional blades tend to push wind away and cause a complex turbulence condition- which consequently demands strict attention to the layout of any wind farm. Alternatively, the FloDesign wind turbine uses a shroud around the turbine blades to funnel wind into the turbine. See above video for best explanation and illustration.
The cost curve to the right shows why this technology is such a disruptive technology. Clearly advancements in wind energy are improving yet at a decreasing rate (a negative double derivative). Thus- the jump to jet engine design turbines could push wind costs in cents/kWH down much further than anticipated by most experts analyzing traditional wind. What this implies is wind energy that is competitive or cheaper than fossil fuels in many more locations than previously available.
On the business side, FloDesign recently secured $34.5MM of funding from investors led by Kleiner Perkins and joined by Technology Partners and VantagePoint Venture Partners. Additionally, Lars Andersen, former President of Vestas China, signed on as CEO. The funding is intended to begin commercial production of the turbines. IPO in 3-4 years?
Ok so what is the Achilles heel of the FloDesign? It’s ugly! (Zoning challenges) Personally I find traditional wind turbines to be beautiful- especially when you consider it is providing clean and renewable energy and replacing a fossil fuel generator. Fans of wind energy realize not every land owner shares these views and some find the light humming noise and gentle roll of the blades to be very unsightly. Well- if folks object to a beautiful, white, 3-bladed turbine- how would they ever accept essentially a jet engine hanging out by itself somewhere? Somehow I am skeptical the FloDesign turbine could dot the countryside and farming communities as well as a giant 1.5MW turbine. Perhaps the FloDesign turbine could find greater acceptance in industrial zones atop existing buildings or nearby towers. Or, maybe FloDesign will design a more aesthetically appealing cover that does not affect turbine performance. Debates on appearance aside- the company truly has a remarkable, ground breaking technology which no doubt will help foster a giant leap forward for the wind sector.