A Win-Wind Solution

By Ann Tappan, Contributing Writer June 1, 2005

An innovative new wind energy system, expected to be available later this summer, offers buildings and businesses a viable system for generating wind power on-site and provides a hedge against future utility price increases.

The product of more than 20 years of research, the new turbine is safe and aesthetically pleasing, say its developers. Compact and quiet, the turbine can be installed beside buildings or on urban rooftops and is designed to produce energy with winds of six to 60 miles per hr.

“It can reduce costs and provide a natural hedge against rising fuel costs for commercial and industrial users consuming at least 600,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) annually. Businesses, manufacturers, retailers, high-rise office and apartment buildings, local governments, hospitals, schools and universities can all benefit,” says Gary Westerholm, CEO and president of McKenzie Bay International, Ltd.

To aid in eliminating operating and capital risks for customers, McKenzie Bay will install, own and maintain the equipment. Users pay a charge per kWh for the electricity, negotiated in a 15-year, fixed-rate power supply contract, explains Westerholm.

“We established WindStor Power Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of McKenzie Bay, which owns and operates the equipment and sells the power to end users. It’s structured to comply with federal and state regulations governing the generation and sale of electricity by small wind-powered generating facilities,” he says.

“It’s like installing a power company on your site,” explains Stan Mandziuk, project manager with the Detroit office of Carter & Burgess, the A/E firm that is providing engineering, architectural and project management services as part of the WindStor project team assembled by McKenzie Bay to handle wind turbine design, installation and maintenance.

“WindStor offers the prospect for the best of all worlds,” says Westerholm. “Assuming that WindStor performs as we anticipate, business owners should be able to retain the stability of utility power while enjoying energy cost savings without financial risks.” He goes on to explain that utilities win because distributed energy reduces stress on the grid; homeland security wins through diversification of the power supply; shareholders win because developers expect to be cost competitive and earn a profit; and the environment wins by reducing fossil fuel consumption and air pollution while helping to build a secure and sustainable future.

Quiet Yet Double the Power

The design allows the turbine to generate much more power in smaller spaces than the traditional airplane-propeller-like wind turbines. The WindStor turbine consists of three curving blades that come together at the top, with a “vertical axis” mount on a tall mast. While the 66-ft. blades on a typical 200-kW horizontal turbine require a 360-degree area of 132 ft. to operate, the 200-kW WindStor turbine has a blade cage diameter and height of 66 ft., making it much more suitable for installation on smaller sites and rooftops.

A variable-speed drive lets the turbine capture the speed from wind gusts. The turbine is omni-directional, so that it will always be optimally positioned to capture maximum power from the wind—allowing it to maximize whatever wind exists and adapt to turbulence created when nearby structures, trees and other objects obstruct wind flow. Conventional turbines must stop and pivot to the wind, losing power generation each time.

“This new turbine design can generate more than twice the power of any other wind turbine in the same location,” claims Westerholm.

The turbine is remarkably quiet, adds Mandziuk, who visited a prototype in Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, Canada, on the northern campus of Quebec University. “There is absolutely no noise. I stood underneath the unit as it was spinning and creating electricity and heard no wind noise, unlike the sound created by conventional vertical-blade wind turbines,” he observes.

The turbine is also said to include multiple safety features, including automatic shut-off when wind speed or fan blade vibrations exceed predefined safe levels.

Carter & Burgess design team members, from its urban planning and architectural groups, also like the way the turbine’s design blends with its surroundings.

“The turbine is a refreshing design element, and will add to the visual experience of a facility,” suggests Harry Diamond, Carter & Burgess architectural group manager.

“The turbine makes a strong visual statement about the owner and occupant’s commitment to the environment,” adds Mandziuk. “It says the owner is on the cutting edge of energy technology for the 21st century.”

A system integration device automatically selects and distributes the least expensive power available at any given time—from the wind turbine or the utility grid. This proprietary system determines the amount of power available from each source.

Determining Viability

A thorough cost-benefit analysis is critical to determine the viability of a wind power system. It must make economic sense, which depends largely on the price a user currently pays for power, Mandziuk says.

The process starts with a computer-generated study of wind velocity and patterns at the target site to determine if significant wind exists and the optimal height of the wind turbine’s blade-cage placement. The team also analyzes a customer’s energy consumption volumes and pattern, and current power costs, to determine the number, placement and size of the turbines.

Evaluating all of this information determines the specific size and economic viability of a customer’s wind-energy system.

Installation Considerations

After establishing the viability and scope of a customer’s wind energy system, Carter & Burgess engineers and architects will evaluate the site and design a plan for installing the system.

The turbine height will range from 100 ft. to 300 ft. above the earth’s surface, placing it above obstructions into undisturbed airflow. It can be mounted on a tall mast in the ground, or on a rooftop with a minimum 20-ft. clearance below the blade cage for objects and people on the roof.

“There are various stages of construction: first, the base and connections; then the mast; and finally, the blades on top. Installing the blades is a one-day process with a crane on site,” Westerholm explains.

The type of installation depends on the wind regime and surroundings near the customer. Ground installation works best for shorter one- or two-story structures and for facilities with adequate land. The turbine is mounted on a tall mast with a five- to 10-ft. diameter, or can be moderately disguised on a light tower by slightly enlarging and strengthening the tower, Westerholm says.

A ground installation for a single unit typically requires a 10- to 12-ft. square of land, with the exact size predicated on soil conditions, Westerholm says. The mast penetrates underground at a depth depending on subsurface conditions. The base need not be fenced, since the turbine is several hundred feet above the ground, but the team’s landscape architects and civil engineers can design landscaping or shielding to camouflage it if desired, Mandziuk says.

For rooftop installations—often a good solution in urban locations—Carter & Burgess planners and designers evaluate the building’s strength and design a steel structure that will elevate the turbine and distribute its weight evenly to strong portions of the building. Most urban rooftops can support the new turbines, which weigh similar to a typical commercial air-conditioning unit.

The system also requires creation of an electrical interface to switch the customer’s power supply between the new wind system and the existing utility, explains Mandziuk. Carter & Burgess electrical engineers work with the utility to determine where and how to connect.

Carter & Burgess architects, civil engineers, landscape architects and urban planners can also provide other design, engineering and consulting work as part of the package, Mandziuk says.

“If a customer needs site modifications or shielding for a surface-mounted turbine, our landscape architects and civil engineers handle it. We also work with local officials and appear at meetings on the owner’s behalf to get the system approved by zoning and planning commissions,” he explains.

Low-Cost Risk-Free Green

Whenever engineers from Carter & Burgess talk about the ability to generate on-site electricity, it attracts significant owner interest, says Stan Mandziuk, project manager with the Detroit office of Carter & Burgess.

“There’s an excitement level when you discuss it. People can’t believe they can put power generation on a roof or on a site and start producing their own renewable power—and reduce their energy costs with no risk. I get excited just talking about it,” Mandziuk says.

Gary Westerholm, CEO and president of McKenzie Bay Int’l., experiences the same reaction as he travels the country promoting his company’s wind system. Announcement of the commercial production design of the new turbine prompted global inquiries in mid-March, he says.

“Every day, the number of inquiries from possible customers increases. Yesterday I had one from a party with 900 properties. Today it was a multitude of smaller users. At every trade show and conference, we get swamped with requests for more information.”

“When people find out that they get green power without investing money and save money from the first kilowatt hour generated, and more importantly hedge against future price increases, it presents a very compelling argument,” Westerholm adds.