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All about Attitude


As a notoriously windy island surrounded by rough seas and strong tides, the uk has the best wind, wave and tidal energy resource in europe. But wind and tidal power currently play a relatively minor part in the uk's energy production. Hub meets a company that might soon be changing that.

WaB (the initials are from WindaBeast - Len's nickname for the wind turbine) Energy's new design is different because the turbine vanes operate face-on to the wind, sitting vertically on their axis, as opposed to deflecting it at 45 degrees as conventional (horizontal axis) turbine blades do. Put simply, the turbine vanes spin like a plate on a stick, rather than like a conventional windmill. This new approach doesn't just work for wind power: in addition to the wind turbine, WaB are working on a tidal-powered version and a combined tidal and wind system using the same technology.

The face-on attitude of the vanes has a number of important advantages over conventional turbine design:

  • it's twice as efficient at converting wind into electricity;
  • the sprung turbine vanes can pick up and use wind energy from any direction, without needing to be pointed into the wind, what's known as "yaw control";
  • unlike conventional turbines, the new design doesn't have to be shut down once wind speed reaches 45mph. The WindaBeast turns greater wind speed directly into greater torque on the drive shaft rather than into stress on the superstructure, so all you get with more wind is more electricity. Len sums the attraction up in terms suitable for the non-technical, "without the yaw control and the enormous masts required by the conventional design it's a much simpler machine, so it's cheaper to manufacture, cheaper to install and cheaper to maintain. It also works in all wind speeds and directions, and it's twice as efficient." He grins, "apart from that, there's no advantage whatsoever."

Put like that, it's difficult to see why the WindaBeast isn't already decorating buildings all over the Isle of Wight, rather than existing only as a prototype.

Len explains, "we are really at the pioneering stage with this > technology. In the future wind and tidal powered energy generation is going to be a very significant contribution to our national energy needs."

In the meantime however, there's the small issue of getting from a single prototype to full-scale production. David feels confident, though he doesn't underestimate the work they still have to do, "We need to do two things to move forward from where we are now. Firstly, we need to have scientific testing, of both the wind and tide turbines, from an accredited authority, such as a university, to give us data on the power yields and safety mechanisms. Secondly, we need to develop the next generation of turbines, using what we've learned from this version. We'd like to see that next-stage prototype involved in field tests in three or four sites around the Island, generating field data.

"The problem we have in both instances is funding, because time in wind tunnels and flume tanks is very expensive, as are next generation prototypes. One of our greatest difficulties has been getting access to any type of funding for development of our ideas.

"Currently we fund the development of the technology ourselves, because we've found that it's very difficult to access any of the finance that is supposedly available to us.

"Either the wait for funds is too long to be practicable, or the amount of bureaucracy involved is unworkable for a small business like ours. That's where we are going to be working with the Isle of Wight Enterprise Hub on applying for funding in the future."

Given the obstacles they still have to overcome, it's fortunate that Len and David make a good team: David is the more voluble businessman; Len is content to take a watching brief for much of the interview, though he interjects when a technical point needs clarification, or when he feels particularly passionate about something. I ask him how he feels they work together, "what David brings is ability and experience in anything to do with the business aspect of the company. Whereas I am best left just to think about problems and their technical solutions."

The businessman and inventor combination seems almost too neat to be true, and in fact the division of responsibility isn't quite so clear cut. David's background is in applied marine sciences, precise positioning (he worked on the first generation of GPS systems) and offshore surveying. Latterly he worked as a consultant on vessel traffic management and oil spill contingency planning, and advised City institutions on the oil industry.

"Len and I first met a year ago following a news item on Meridian TV featuring the WindaBeast prototype. Given my environmental background and experience with financial institutions there seemed to be a natural fit between our skills. I could talk to Len in technical terms and translate what he said into language that potential investors would understand. And I have experience of big business.

"We got together with another Director to form WaB Energy Systems.

"We kept our heads down at that stage, we didn't want to advertise anything until we had patent protection, which we got in November of last year."

Since then things have developed quickly: the company is now at the pre-production prototype stage, with scientific support from Southampton University. They're currently working on producing scale models for wind tunnel and flume tank testing, for wind and tidal turbines respectively and a prototype combined tide and wind powered system.

No one who watches the news can have any doubt that this is an attractive proposition: opinions vary as to when the world will face "peak oil" - the moment when global demand for oil exceed supply - but the constriction on world energy supplies is already being felt in the price rises UK electricity consumers are already facing. The UK's domestic supplies of oil, gas and coal are close to exhaustion, and by 2020 we may need to import gas to produce up to 80% of our energy needs.

So it's not difficult to sell the idea that we need alternative sources of energy, but while financial help is available for households and communities to install existing wind turbine technology, through schemes such as the Clear Skies Renewable Energy Grants and the Scottish Community and Householder Renewables Initiative, funding to develop the technology for the next generation of wind turbine technology is less easy to come by.

"There's been a sea change lately in the accepted wisdom on power generation in the UK," says David, "current thinking is putting far more emphasis on small-scale, community-based generation. One of the current ideas is self-sustainability within regions. That's a philosophy that is completely in tune with what we are trying to achieve with the WindaBeast and WaterBeast. But it can be frustrating hearing talk about the problems of greenhouse gas emissions, power shortages and global warming, and knowing that we've got a technology that could make a very significant difference, if only we could produce it and roll it out nationwide."

He smiles wryly, "we just keep plugging away: we're determined, we've got a great idea, and we know we'll succeed eventually."

If, like the WindaBeast, success is mostly attitude, then he's probably right.

"Can they turn it the right way up for the photo?" hisses the photographer, as he gets his first sight of Wab Energy's new wind turbine design.

Cue some indulgent smiles from David Edwards (Managing Director) and Len Haworth (Technical Director). I get the distinct feeling that this > is a conversation they've had with others before. It's David's turn to explain,

"This is a different technology to conventional wind turbines; instead of a horizontal axis for the blades we have a vertical axis design. This gives us a low profile system that avoids the need for the large masts associated with conventional wind turbines."

WaB Energy Systems
T 01983 405 800

A cold wind's gonna blow wind and wave energy in the UK

In the UK at present over 1,430 wind turbines have the capacity to produce more than 1,315 MW of electrical power.

This is just 1% of UK electricity, yet the UK has the greatest wind resource in Europe.

Some countries in Europe already generate as much as 20% of their electricity from wind farms, and the UK has an even greater resource waiting to be developed.

Wind farms currently operational
Projects 136
Turbines 1727
Megawatts 1941.15
Homes Equivalent 1085392
CO2 reductions (pa) 4387154 tonnes

One conventional 1.8 MW wind turbine at a reasonable site would produce over 4.7 million units of electricity each year: enough to meet the annual needs of over 1,000 households, or to run a computer for over 1,620 years.

The worldwide wave power resource potential is huge. Future Energy Solutions highlight that the global power potential has been estimated to be around 8,000-80,000TWh/y (1-10TW), which is the same order of magnitude as world electrical energy consumption.

Contact: Ally Charles


Published: 07th November 2006

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