Q1: What is the status of the SheerWind projects?
SheerWind has seven beta units at different stages of installation and commissioning. The only one that was is at pre-commissioning evaluation (that is, at Stage 3) is in Fort Custer, Michigan. The other six units are at Stage 1 of installation, meaning that the funnel has been constructed and has been subject to inspection and speed tests.
Q2: You mentioned stages of installation and commissioning, how many stages are there?
We have four stages before we fully commission a unit. Stage 1 is site analysis, design, fabrication, and construction of the funnel. Stage 2 includes inspection and verification of the funnel to determine that wind speeds are accelerated as planned. At Stage 2, the wind speed data is collected, analyzed, and compared with predicted speed magnification. Stage 3 (pre-commissioning) is the installation of three wind turbines and related converters and control system; system integration and inspection of the electronics are done at this stage, as well as, collecting wind speed and power data. In Stage 4, we commission the system and focus on continuous operation, power generation, and energy production over a time period.
Q3: How is the Army National Guard installation at Fort Custer doing?
This unit was pre-commissioned (Stage 3) in early June of 2017. The pre-commissioning of this unit was disappointingly delayed due to multiple issues with off-the-shelf equipment and electronics provided by our vendors. More than 85 percent of our challenges and delays have had nothing to do with the INVELOX funnel technology. We have gone through stages 1 and 2, and we have been at Stage 3 for more than 18 months.
Q4: What has happened during that 18 months?
After the INVELOX funnel was installed (Stage 1), in Stage 2, we measured wind speeds inside the Venturi section of the INVELOX system and compared it with free-stream wind speeds (undisturbed outside wind speeds). For example, the wind speeds in the Venturi unit were from 20 to 90 miles per hour while free wind speeds were in the range of 4 to 26 miles per hour. The wind speeds inside the Venturi were more than ample to turn multiple turbines and generate the expected power. It should be noted that traditional turbines require 8 mph outside wind to begin turning, 26 miles per hour to begin producing nameplate power, and at about 56 miles per hour, the turbine is shut down.
Satisfied with the wind speeds inside Venturi section of the funnel, we proceeded to Stage 3, in which we installed three turbines and related electronic and safety equipment. The turbines turned as expected but soon began shutting down continually due to a vibration fault tripped the safety chain of one of the turbines. SheerWind and vendors spent more than a year trying to determine the source of the vibration that shut down the turbines each time they turned faster than 300 RPMs, (the system starts generating power 350 RPMs). After a year of a frustrating search for a solution to what appeared to be a mechanical vibration problem, it was finally discovered that an improper cable was installed and it was causing the false vibration alarm. The cable was replaced, and the turbines ran as high as 1,400 RPMs without shutting down. That was good news, that arrived after a full year of exasperating trouble shooting. Once the turbines were turning with no vibration fault, we were prepared for the converters and controller to extract power from the turbines. While we have recorded spikes of power, we can’t achieve sustained power output. Closer inspection of the data reveals that the controller and converters do not communicate properly, which prevents the generator from being properly loaded in order to draw current. Once again, we are faced with an obscure problem regarding the operation of off-the-shelf electronics. We are working diligently to solve this converter/controller problem and are seeking expert opinions and suggestions to figure it out. In short, the funnel performance is satisfactory, the turbines are running, but now we need to solve the 3rd party off-the-shelf converter/controller problems to extract the power.
Q5 Was it a mistake to not develop your own turbine and system? Have you made mistakes? If so what?
The standard process to commercialize is to build alpha, beta, and pre-production units and fully test the systems before the product is ready for full production and customer installation. However, that process is costly both in capital and time. The estimated cost for these steps was $150,000 to $200,000 million. However, in the current market environment, we have not been able to raise the required capital. The solution was to use an alternative approach that was lean and capital-efficient. In the heart of our approach was our partnerships with direct customers for building beta units at customer sites and refine the product in collaboration with customers. In addition, we licensed the technology to other companies worldwide so they can build beta units for testing in their local markets to achieve global commercialization.
Was our approach a mistake? If all would have worked out, the answer would have been no, but we have not advanced as planned due to lack of capital. We have not secured the minimum capital ($15,000) to hire the expertise to diagnose our problem with 3rd party off-the-shelf electronics. At the end of the day, we tried an alternative approach, and the lack of capital has haunted us.
Was it a mistake to go on that path rather than stop the company and wait for the day in which we could secure needed capital? Maybe it was. We know, however, that any innovative company has to discover its path based on available capital and required resources. Every company applies its own perspective to reach its own conclusions. We decided not to fail by failing to try.
Q6: A recent article says, “SheerWind-Invelox—Is the End Nigh for Another Ducted Turbine?” Is it?
SheerWind has had its challenges and ran into issues in the field, but we know for sure is that the SheerWind technology works; our problems have been with technological equipment purchased from others. Like a typical start-up technology, we have encountered delays when developing for the market. When developing game-changing technology like ours, the challenges and resistance to market entry increase greatly. In today’s social media and blogging environment, it is easy for uninformed outsiders to provide misleading information and prey on innovative companies by claiming ingenious expertise. These uninformed bloggers and trolls often reject any new idea in the market. The author of the “Is the End Nigh” article repeatedly preys on new ideas in the wind industry with a bias toward defending traditional wind technology rather than any science-based approaches to study the feasibility of new technologies, such as ducted turbines.
Q7: The author cites an article from 2014 that was written by another blogger to debunk your technology. What do you have to say to his claims?
The blogger did not debunk anything. He seemed not to understand the science supporting the technology and peer reviewed papers, and made a point of insulting five experts with PhDs in engineering, each with more than 30 years of experience. We choose to ignore the naysayers with no engineering or scientific argument, as they seem to negatively challenge new technologies in hopes of getting recognition while using innovative companies to drive traffic to their websites. It is the same people who dismiss all new wind technologies and claim to know more than hundreds of experts working on breakthrough ideas to improve the world and peoples’ lives. We expect to encounter naysayers. What is difficult to understand is defamatory name calling and outright slander aimed at hard-working scientists and engineers. Based on the blogger’s faulty definition, any risk taking innovative scientist is a “crackpot inventor”. Taking the risk to bring innovative ideas to market is why the United States of America is the world’s technology leader. It is understood many may not succeed but the few that make it, have had a meaningful impact on our lives.
Q8: The article says the National Guard gave SheerWind until June to get their three contracted devices in operation. Did that happen? Where did the writer’s information come from?
Most of the information in the article is simply false, misleading, and dishonest. The writer claims to have tried to contact SheerWind or our partners for comment. We would have known if they would have attempted to contact us. Credible reporters and journalists are up front; they introduce themselves and ask questions. They also tell complete stories rather than creating their own false or misleading narratives based on photos of one of our first demonstration unit that was hit by a severe storm. It doesn’t make sense to write negatively about all innovative renewable energy technologies and yet claim to be great fans of renewable energy.
Two of our units are not to be commissioned until the Army National Guard provides electrical connections to both sites. That has been the reason for the delay. As for the Fort Custer project, it was pre-commissioned after resolving issues not related to the INVELOX technology.
Q9: Another recent article sites the end of the ducted turbine company Ogin, including a blogger calling the inventors “crackpots.” Why do you think they failed?
It is not for us to speculate on why a company failed, but we do know that ducted technologies work. We were all disappointed to see Ogin Energy close its business. People who worked at and invested in Ogin are top engineers, scientists, and investors from credible institutions and firms. Calling innovators “crackpot inventors” comes only from lack of regard and knowledge. Ogin’s technology came from a spinoff from the aerospace community surrounding the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Department of Energy has found that Ogin’s technology offers exceptional promise and has provided funding to the company through the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) program. Ogin raised over $130 million from leading venture capital providers and strategic partners. It appears Ogin’s investors decided to close the company due to excessive O&M cost and not lack of performance of the ducted turbines they designed. The writer of the article seems to believe that any risk-taking innovative scientist is a crackpot inventor. Taking risks to bring innovative ideas to markets is what made America.
Q10: Your technology is considered ducted. Why do you think SheerWind will survive?
In the case of SheerWind, we capture and bring wind down to the ground level. We eliminate many costly items, such as the tower itself, giant blades, yaw control, pitch control, gear box operation, nacelle, heat exchangers inside the nacelle, and related components. Removing those costly parts balance the cost of the funnel that captures wind and brings it to turbines at much higher speeds. Because all turbines are at ground level, there are significant savings in O&M. By magnifying speed, we can have higher availability and higher annual energy production. We are working diligently to bring this vastly improved product to market.
Q11: So what is the holdup? Why isn’t this being installed around the world?
First, we are attempting to change an industry. The companies invested in traditional wind will not easily change direction. We feel strongly that it is time to look at the problem differently, not continue to engineer larger and larger towers, blades, and turbines to produce more power. What other technologies get larger and larger to progress? Imagine if computers or cell phones got larger and larger to increase performance, capabilities, and power as the technology advanced.
Second, as most start-ups, we need support and capital. Enough capital would allow us to move faster. Our current team works because they understand and have a passion for the impact this technology can have on lives, the environment, and the future. With sufficient capital, we could hire, grow, and commercialize faster.
Q12: So capital is the issue. Why haven’t you been funded?
We have great support from our 42 current investors and appreciate their commitment. We are now at the point that angel investors cannot provide sufficient capital. We need an infusion of meaningful capital instead of just enough for boot-strapping the company. Our lack of capital has caused challenges with the Fort Custer unit. Everyone is waiting for the Fort Custer unit to produce power. It is frustrating for all of us to see the turbines turning to the point they should be producing the expected amount of power, but due to what today seems to be a software or electrical issue from 3rd party off-the-shelf components, we can’t deliver meaningful electrical energy to the grid yet.
Q13: Why do you think SheerWind will survive when others (like Ogin) did not?
We have had this subject on our web site (see FAQs 17 and 22 at here: technology/faq-technology) since 2012. Historically, while most people agreed on the performance of ducted turbines, the challenge has always been to bring the cost low enough to be competitive. The Ogin team had the right idea by speeding wind up using ducted turbines, but when placed on the top of a tower, there is no cost reduction. Adding a duct on the top of a tower adds to the complexity of the yaw control and O&M.
Q14: What do you feel has been your greatest success and greatest challenge to date?
Our greatest success has been to team up with companies around the globe to accelerate commercialization of the technology. We have been able to open meaningful discussion about what really matters in wind power generation, and what can be done to make wind power a leading contributor to our global electricity needs.
Our greatest challenge has been the delays in showing we have a viable commercial product.
Q15: What are the next steps for the technology and for SheerWind?
Once we have the current electronic problem solved at our Fort Custer unit, we will move on to optimizing the system. After we show we can generate meaningful power (about 100kW) from a 3-meter rotor in a low-wind-speed area, the market will see the full potential that the technology offers. We have several experts in the area of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) working on the geometry of the funnel to improve the performance and have found multiple variables that will increase the performance of the INVELOX funnel technology.
It can only get better from here. As a colleague in the Netherlands reminded us, the Wright Brothers first flight was only 120 feet; if it was not because of the risk they took, we would not now have jets flying us around the globe. Imagine our world if we didn’t have those who have taken risks to bring better technologies into the world.
Q16: Do you have a list of published work by SheerWind or others working on ducted turbines?
In addition to work at SheerWind, there are a number of professors, researchers, and graduate students who have published work on ducted turbines. Below is a short list showing work done by a number of experts around the globe.
1. FarahPour, P. Saniei, A. Khatibzadeh, P. Radfar, R. Sehdehi, “Field Measurements of a full scale INVELOX Wind Turbine”, Joint work by Department of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Electrical Engineering, Pacificwind, 9th Asia-Pacific Conference on Wind Engineering, Auckland, New Zealand, December 2017.
2. Allaei (SheerWind), Y. Andreopoulos (City College of NY), and David Tarnowski (QRDC), “INVELOX with multiple wind turbine generator systems”, Energy, Volume 93, Part 1, Pages 1030–104, 15 December 2015.
3. Pradheep Sukumar (Department of Mechanical Engineering, California State University, Sacramento), “PARAMETRIC STUDY ON DUCTED WIND TURBINE SYSTEM AND FLOW CHARACTERISTICS WHEN PLACED ON TOP OF A BUILDING” Thesis submitted for Mater of Science, Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Dongmei Zhou and Dr. Ilhan Tuzcu at California State University, Fall 2015.
4. David Yang (Department of Mechanical Engineering, California State University, Sacramento), “PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENTS OF A DUCTED WIND TURBINE” Thesis submitted for Mater of Science, Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Dongmei Zhou and Dr. Timothy Marbach at California State University, Fall 2015.
5. Nallapaneni Manoj Kumara (Renewable Energy Technologies, Dept. of Electrical & Electronics Engineering, Karunya University, Coimbatore, India), M. S. P Subathrab (Dept. of Electrical & Electronics Engineering, Karunya University, Coimbatore, India), Orville Damaso Cotaa (Renewable Energy Technologies, Dept. of Electrical & Electronics Engineering, Karunya University, Coimbatore, India), “Design and Wind Tunnel Testing of Funnel Based Wind Energy Harvesting System” SMART GRID Technologies, August 6-8, 2015.
6. Allaei (SheerWind), Y. Andreopoulos (City College of NY), and David Tarnowski (QRDC), “INVELOX: Description of a new concept in wind power and its performance evaluation”, Energy, Volume 69, Pages 336–344, 1 May 2014.
7. D. Allaei and L. Schwartz, “INVELOX – Making Wind a Reliable Source of Electrical Energy for China”, 2013 China Wind Power, Beijing, China, October 2013.
8. D. Allaei, J. E. Gonzalez (City College of NY), A. M. Sadegh (City College of NY), Y. Andreopoulos, & D. Tarnowski, “INVELOX- Bringing Noise & Vibration Issues to the Ground Level”, Second International Conference on Wind Turbine Noise & Vibration, Hamburg, Germany, November 2013.
9. D. Allaei and Y. Andreopoulos, “INVELOX: A New Concept in Wind Energy Harvesting”, ASME 7th International Conference on Energy Sustainability, Minneapolis, USA, July 2013.
10. D. Allaei, J. E. Gonzalez, A. M. Sadegh, Y. Andreopoulos, D. Tarnowski, “INVELOX-Affordable Wind Power for Anyone Anywhere”, WindTech International, March 2013.
11. C J Lawn (Department of Engineering, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London, England), “Optimization of the power output from ducted turbines”, Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs Vol. 217 Part A: J. Power and Energy, IMechE 2003.
12. Hansen, M. O. L., Sorensen, N. N. and Flay, R. G. J. “Effect of placing a diffuser around a wind turbine”, Wind Energy Conference, pp. 322–324, Nice, France, 1999.