For sustainable energy to really become the norm, it has to become more convenient and affordable so that anyone, anywhere can set up a system personally. At the moment, it is almost impossible for someone in a big city to generate their own power from their apartment. Where would the device to harness energy be set up? This is just one of many complications for the city dweller to be green. A pair of students, Nicolas Orellana and Yaseen Noorani, from Lancaster University, designed something to solve this problem. They invented the “O-Wind Turbine” – a wind turbine for the city – and were awarded the UK’s James Dyson Award 2018 for it.
Noticing that cities channel many wind currents between and around their buildings, they saw an opportunity for generating clean energy. The main challenges included space (area for the device) and wind direction (multidirectional). Conventional wind turbines are only capable of capturing wind that blows horizontally which is why they are generally located in areas with large (also due to their size), open spaces, like the countryside. A wind turbine for the city would have to be capable of capturing wind that blows in every which way to be efficient. And, it would have to be smaller to fit in high-density urban environments.
To tackle these challenges Orellana and Noorani created O-Wind, an omnidirectional wind turbine. It is a sphere with a single axis of rotation going through it, 25 centimetres in diameter in the current prototype, with vents sliced into the surface that allow wind to flow in from all directions. Its size and shape enable it to be placed even in the most crowded cities making it especially suitable for apartment buildings facing chaotic winds in urban environments. This device could just take urban energy harvesting to another level.
“Only holding it in your hands and playing with it gives you a chance to understand what their new device actually does and how, if things go right, its ability to capture any random breezes will take urban energy harvesting to another level.” said Harry Hoster, director of Energy Lancaster at Lancaster University.
For its mechanical motion, the turbine makes use of Bernoulli’s principle. All the vents have large entrances and smaller exits for air. In the presence of wind, this evokes a pressure difference between the two terminals causing the turbine to move. The sphere is completely enveloped in vents making it receptive to winds from every which direction, including both the vertical and horizontal planes. Regardless of wind direction, the turbine will turn in the same one direction.
This turbine rotation would be used to power a generator which can produce electricity that can be used as a direct source for power or fed into the national grid. The financial incentive to users feeding into the grid could improve the region’s sustainable energy production.
The O-Wind Turbine is cheap to manufacture and easy to set up. It could easily be fixed outside balconies or attached to the side of buildings for small-scale energy production. It is a simplistic design with no steering involved, hence requiring less maintenance than traditional wind turbines.
“Cities are windy places but we are currently not harnessing this resource… Our belief is that making it easier to generate green energy, people will be encouraged to play a bigger own role in conserving our planet,” said Orellana, an industrial designer in the International Innovation masters program at Lancaster University. “We hope that O-Wind Turbine will improve the usability and affordability of turbines for people across the world.”