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Clean Power VIsionAIR5 micro wind turbine

Published on April 22nd, 2014 | by Tina Casey

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UGE Raises The Bar For Vertical Axis Micro Wind Turbines

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April 22nd, 2014 by
 
The wind turbine company UGE first crossed our radar in 2012, when it teamed with GE to launch Sanya Skypump, the world’s first EV charging station powered directly by a wind turbine. Now the company is back with the launch of VisionAIR3, a ramped up, high efficiency version of the company’s earlier micro vertical axis wind turbine model.

For those of you new to the vertical axis field, the vertical system is far more compact than the now-familiar horizontal axis wind turbines dotting the US landscape. That provides for a broad range of opportunities for site selection in close quarters, including the tops of buildings, sports stadiums, and smaller structures.

VIsionAIR5 micro wind turbine

VisionAIR series vertical axis micro wind turbine courtesy of UGE.

Getting On The Vertical Axis Micro Wind Turbine Short List

The official debut of this new addition to the UGE (formerly Urban Green Energy) stable follows last month’s announcement of a third party certified power curve for the VisionAIR series, which added VisionAIR to a “short list” of vertical axis turbines to receive the credit.

The certification, by the lab Intertek, confirmed that VisionAIR turbines begin generating power at speeds as low as 7 mph, and according to UGE it is “twice as efficient as several of its competitors.”

 The next step is completion of AWEA (American Wind Energy Association) 9.1 certification, which UGE expects in the coming months.

The 9.1 certification comes under AWEA’s Small Wind Turbine Performance and Safety Standard. It was adopted by the wind industry in 2009, with uniform performance, safety and durability standards for small wind turbines (btw we’re calling them micro because it sounds cooler), defined as swept areas of 200 square meters or less.

Our sister site PlanetSave has noted that the micro wind turbine industry has been bedeviled by hype and hucksters, so the certification standards are critical for the industry to achieve reliability and consumer confidence in the distributed energy generation market.

Getting 9.1 certification would also put UGE on another fairly short list. As of this writing, barely more than a dozen companies are listed as 9.1 certified or applying for certification by the Small Wind Certification Council, an independent certification body.

For that matter, it looks like our CleanTechnica list of Top Five Micro Wind Turbines is due for yet another remix.

The VisionAIR3 Vertical Axis Micro Wind Turbine

Speaking of the tops of buildings, the technology behind VisionAIR3 and others in the series (VisionAIR5 was launched last year) is focused like a laser on noise reduction in order to accommodate the growing market for on site renewable energy generation in urban and developed areas.

They must be pretty quiet all right. Among UGE’s customers is Hilton, which installed six UGE wind turbines right on top of its Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort. UGE turbines have also featured prominently at a colossal renewable energy makeover for Lincoln Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles.

According to UGE’s press materials, the new VisionAIR3 continues the VisionAIR line with improvements in durability and efficiency.

UGE VisionAIR3 micro wind turbine

VisionAIR3 micro wind turbine courtesy of UGE.

The installation can be tailored to squeeze the maximum efficiency for operators that use wind power on site as well as those contributing wind power to the grid, and it comes with the added bonus of UGE’s background in hybrid wind/solar power systems:

VisionAIR3 is designed to integrate effortlessly into UGE’s SeamlessGrid™ power management system which can easily incorporate solar panels for hybrid installations. SeamlessGrid™ includes advanced remote monitoring and control through UGE’s ViewUGE™ platform as well as additional safety features that redefine safety and long-term reliability for distributed energy systems.

The aforementioned wind powered EV charging station is one of those micro wind-hybrid systems, btw.

A Beauty Shot For The Wind Industry

We’ve noted previously that in the context of the distributed energy market the wind industry is considered “mature,” meaning that its strength is in utility scale operations.

Given UGE’s track record, though, we may have spoken too soon. As far as installations in cities, suburbs, and developed recreation areas goes, it looks like the market for distributed wind energy generation could be on the verge of breaking wide open, and that has as much to do with aesthetics as with clean power.

Compared to solar panels, micro wind turbines offer an eye catching addition to a building’s profile while underscoring the owner’s green cred, so it’s little wonder that more businesses are beginning to decorate their flagship properties with vertical axis micro wind turbines.

Aesthetics also apply at the big end of the wind turbine scale. Earlier this year we got a sneak peak at the latest GE tall wind turbine tower for horizontal axis wind turbines. The frame consists of steel open latticework (think Erector meets Eiffel), which in engineering parlance is called a space frame. However, GE veiled it with a white cladding partly to achieve visual consistency with standard tube-style turbine towers.

Come to think of it, would it be piling on too much to sit one of those VisionAir3 turbines on a GE Space Frame?

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Wayne Williamson

    I realize I’m a little late on this thread, but this actually looks exciting for just an ordinary homeowner. And I do not mean the 100m one mentioned in the comments(Mike). Base on the pic, it looks like 10 to 15m high. Where I live in central Florida, the wind may not blow for days at a time, but then we also have the weeks at a time where they do. My guess is that you would get 50% of the rated 7 mph output.
    It would have been interesting to see what one of them would cost installed….

    • Peter Gray

      This might be interesting or even exciting in some sense for the ordinary homeowner, but without doing extensive research, why not step back and use some common sense?

      1) Look at a commercial wind farm. Every one of them uses, say, 100 large HAWTs, never 100,000 tiny machines instead. The only VAWTs to be seen are experimental relics, few of which have rotated in the past decade.
      2) Depending on how you slice or slant the data, commercial turbines have only recently become cost-competitive with coal (not counting coal’s external costs).
      3) Most wind power efficiency gains have been associated with building larger machines, not smaller.
      4) Given all that, how could it make a bit of economic sense to install a tiny VAWT, at low height in a poor wind resource area?
      5) Even if you don’t care about the direct economics, how does it make sense to use at least four times as much material to get less power output? The materials require energy to produce, along with pollution and resource depletion.

      It might not provide the same warm, fuzzy feeling, but instead of putting that hardware on your roof, why not have it show up as a small fraction of an actually useful utility-scale turbine somewhere else?

      • Wayne Williamson

        Peter, the waters off the Florida coast(both east and west) would be perfect for wind farms. I really don’t know why nobody has pursued it.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The US has been very slow coming to offshore wind. It’s now getting underway in the NE. And perhaps in Texas.

          I suspect Florida will come along a bit later.

          Then there’s that very strong current off the east coast that runs 24/365. There’s a lot of energy there waiting to be harvested.

        • Peter Gray

          I’ve seen maps indicating the same, and shallow water extends a long way from the coast, doesn’t it? No disagreement there.
          But that’s an entirely different scenario from what you brought up, of a backyard turbine in central FL. From what I can tell from the UGE site, the device we’re talking about has a cut-in velocity of 8 mph, for 2 MWh/year running 24/365. If you were lucky enough to get half that, and you’re paying the average FL electric rates of $0.12, that’s $120/year. Financed at 4% for 20 years, with zero maintenance, you’d break even at an installed cost of $1,625.
          The UGE site is rather coy about prices, but I found the predecessar UGE VAWT on ebay for $9,000. That’s too high by a factor of 5.5.
          So, yes, if the machine lasts for a century and you stick around that long, after that the energy will be “free.”

          • Wayne Williamson

            Yup, the 9k kind of seals it. If it was 1k$ it might be worth pursuing. With the 9k, I could put roughly 3kw(probably closer to 5kw) panels on the roof with a payback of less than 10 years….
            Just an fyi, I checked into solar back in the late 90′s and they wanted 250k dollars…my how things change….

          • Peter Gray

            That’s about right. At $9k, it would have to put out max rated power 24/365 to pay off in 10 years, and I don’t know of anyplace on the planet that gets a constant 25-30 mph. On a premium site, at a high-end-of-realistic 40% CF, it would take 35 years to pay off. PV sounds like a much more sensible investment.

  • Michael Bergey

    Paul Gipe, a 35 year veteran of the wind industry and the best selling author of books on small wind, posted an article comparing the UGE turbine’s performance with our 6 kW fully certified HAWT on his highly regarded wind-works.org website: http://www.wind-works.org/cms/index.php?id=17 It’s worth a read.

    • Bob_Wallace

      It is worth a read. But if you’re short for time, here’s the take-away paragraph…

      “To summarize UGE’s VAWT is half as efficient, is four times more material intensive, and has no effective means for limiting the rotor’s power in strong winds relative to a competitive conventional wind turbine.”

    • Crow Feeder
      • Bob_Wallace

        The anti-wind site you link has a single data point.

        Presenting one piece of data when the turbine count is now over 250,000 confirms a bias on the part of the site.

        Linking such an obviously flawed piece in a comment suggests bias on the part of the commenter.

        • Crow Feeder

          the video features a small wind turbine and that is all its about-small wind. i think its an SWT from one of the commenters actually. the vid is not about Big Wind. its small wind. and throughout the comments-all are crowing about the inferiority of VAWTS to handle stress relative to its small wind hawt counterpart..well facts show otherwise-both vawt and hawts – small wind- are subject to torsional deflections /torque ripple-vawt, centrifugal moment and aerodynamic twisting moment – hawt. forces apply to both machines at a small scale. neither have a cyclical stress advantage over the other during practical operation. stress forces is a geometry neutral load.

          and i standby my unbiased claims-regrettable yes-i had to post to a windbagger site to drop in truth. couldnt find the raw video url.

          • Peter Gray

            “and i standby my unbiased claims-regrettable yes-i had to post to a windbagger site to drop in truth. couldnt find the raw video url.”

            Huh? Is there a point or a rebuttal buried in there somewhere?

            The incoherent first paragraph is packed with sciency-sounding words, and phrases plucked from engineering…but it tells us nothing.

      • Peter Gray

        “Unbiased perspective”?? Seriously? One can only hope the “un” was a typo.
        That anyone is persuaded by one cherry-picked “factual video” demonstrates only one thing: the sad state of numeracy and general understanding and common sense among

        • Crow Feeder

          well if the site offends you delete the link to the site and post in its place the video URL link. physics of small wind still doesn’t change-even if the weblink does

          • Peter Gray

            The website is offensive because of its dishonesty, but that’s not the point. The point is that you take one story (accurate though it might be) about the failure of a single horizontal-axis turbine, for reasons that are not even stated, as an education on the “physics of small wind.” Then you extrapolate that single sketchy, out-of-context data point into what you imagine to be evidence that VAWTs are not inferior at “handling stress.”
            I’m not sure I’d call that offensive. How about “baffling,” to be polite?

          • Crow Feeder

            failure reason doesn’t matter-the failure does. and fyi its a direct drive machine-there is no oil, and more than likely high winds and the moment forces mentioned above induced failure, when it furled combined with ice conditions. that is a common and well know problem for Small wind hawts-blade separation, ice throw and yes furling does also destroy swt’s even though it is a safety featue. point of the vid link is to highlight the ignorance of basic moment forces on display in this comment section. there is no superiority betweeen small wind hawts and vawts when it comes to cyclic loading under high wind or even during normal operation. do a search to be fair and post a vawt disrupting from torque ripple.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Again, you have a single data point. That is not enough to make a reasonable analysis.

            What’s the overall failure rate for direct drive turbines?

            “post a vawt disrupting from torque ripple”

            Where would we find enough installed to make a decent analysis? You do understand that one swallow the spring doth not make, do you not?

            You’re not displaying any scientific literacy here.

          • Crow Feeder

            some of these reports have really big words in them..

            single data point? hardly! a video example of one small wind hawt disrupting to feed crow – yes. here’s some research to
            illustrate my points about the technical ignorance and spin demonstrated on this blog- hardly a scientific journal or factual blog by any stretch of the imagination. failure rates in small wind, hawt or vawt is nothing new or sudden and certainly not limited to 1 data point; and has been addressed and being re-addressed continually. there is no superiority in cyclic loading among small wind hawt or vawts! and there are so many more….

            http://m.wpi.edu/Pubs/E-project/Available/E-project-050410-163916/unrestricted/mc_rd_an_js_Rooftop_Wind_IQP_Report.pdf

            http://www.engr.mun.ca/~sbruneau/research/windresearch/jrthesis.pdf

            http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/50499.pdf

            http://www.warwickwindtrials.org.uk

            http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20140407/wind-turbine-nightmare-remote-alaska-refuge-may-cost-millions

            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/9837026/Wind-turbine-collapses-in-high-wind.html

            0

          • Bob_Wallace

            Don’t ask people to open naked links and dig through papers in an attempt to discover your point.

            If you think the site has value then copy out a short part or paraphrase it along with where in the paper the information might be found.

            I just opened the first one and discovered it to be a 79 page paper. I’m not going to spend time looking for something that you want read.

          • Peter Gray

            “You’re not displaying any scientific literacy here.”

            You’re too diplomatic by half, Bob. I have about as much patience with unpunctuated word slaw as I do with arguments by anecdote. At minimum, anyone who wants others to take his/her ideas seriously ought to construct a complete grammatical sentence from time to time.

        • Michael Bergey

          The story behind the turbine in the video does not support Crow Feeder’s dispersions on HAWT’s. The Tom Ridge Environmental Center Bergey 10 kW turbine was one of seven Bergey turbines installed at Pennsylvania parks under state funding about ten years ago. This coastal installation was extensively monitored (video, infrared, audio, daily site walks, etc) for avian impacts and after two years it showed there was no danger to local or migratory birds or bats. That independent study is publicly available. The turbine suffered a blade failure several years ago due to a manufacturing defect. The defect should have been caught well before the failure but wasn’t because the low bidder on the project was an out-of-state firm that failed to perform the required inspections. Though outside the warranty period we offered full replacement at no cost. My understanding is that the state chose to remove the damaged turbine so that the tower could be rented for cell phone antennas – providing more income than the savings from the turbine. Ice throw was never reported to us and, based on our 35 years of field experience, I suspect there’s so embellishment going on here.
          More than 2,500 Bergey 10 kW’s have achieved over 400 million fleet operating hours on all seven continents and I challenge anyone to find a wind turbine of any size or configuration with a better reliability track record.
          I have personally designed, built and tested both HAWTs and VAWTs in the 8-10 kW size class and can attest that both have significant structural and dynamic issues that must be carefully addressed to achieve the reliability and longevity these products require. Designing a successful small wind turbine is harder than it looks – as hundreds of companies have found out.

  • http://barnardonwind.wordpress.com/ Mike Barnard

    Parsing this and the UGE website, the certified device appears to be the VisionAir5. It has a published power curve, although it’s unstated whether it is the same one certified by Intertek and it’s the only one with certifications listed. http://www.urbangreenenergy.com/products/visionair/specifications

    It’s worth comparing this to a power curve for a similarly rated HAWT, but it’s a bit tough as the VA5 is rated at 3.2 KW, which is an unconventional number. However, let’s take the Bergey Excel 10 KW device as a comparison (I’d use the 6 KW device but the link to the certification report is broken at present). At least right now, Bergey actually publishes their certification report, while UGE doesn’t. http://bergey.com/documents/2012/05/excel-10-swcc-summary-report.pdf

    I’ve scaled the power curves to be easily comparable along the horizontal axis. Something that leaps out is that the Excel 10 actually has a peak power output of 12.5 KW but is labelled a 10 KW device, while the UGE has a maximum 3.2 KW output and that is the referenced output. An apples-to-apples comparison at the same 11.5 m/s wind speed shows that the UGE is actually comparable — by that simple and reductive measure — to a 1.8 KW device, not a 3.2 KW device, a fairly substantial difference, and perhaps only one of marketing approach. UGE claims an average power of 2.5 KW, which is likely the number that is most comparable.

    It’s worth looking at swept area and comparable production as well. While VAWTs tend to be mounted lower, let’s ignore the mast height for now, assuming if you were serious about wind generation you would put the device as high as possible. The Bergey 10 KW device for example is specified usually with a 100 m mast. I’ve created equivalent Bergey scaling for swept area assuming lowered power ratings, knowing that power output is linear with swept area all else being equal.

    It’s pretty obvious from the table that at the maximum UGE power output, the Bergey would require only 74% of the swept area to achieve similar output at its nameplate capacity. The comparison just gets more an more in favour of the Bergey as more realistic comparisons are made at 2.5 KW and 1.8 KW. VAWTs already require substantially more material — a key factor in cost of manufactured objects — than HAWTs for the same swept area. However, this shows that for equivalent power output, much more swept area is also required, so the additional cost of materials is then further multiplied by a factor of almost 2. Calling it four times the blade material to achieve similar power outputs wouldn’t be far off.

    These pretty basic comparisons show the reason why LCOE on HAWTs is always better than LCOE on VAWTs. As always, please correct any errors you see.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Thanks, Mike. My take-away from your post.

      1) The UGE3 is outputting the power of a 1,8 kW HAWT.

      2) The UGE has a significantly higher amount of material use per kW which would make cost of manufacturing higher.

      Did I get that right?

      • http://barnardonwind.wordpress.com/ Mike Barnard

        Yup. It might be 2.5 KW but that isn’t a substantial variant. To be clear, I like UGE just fine. They sell renewable energy solutions including solar, wind and inverters. The UGE is an attractive device and some people will be willing to lay a premium for aesthetic values as the article points out. And I have no problem with people who have lots of money spending it on good looking objects that generate reasonable amounts of electricity.

        But I really would like people to stop hyping VAWTs as if they are anything other than a less efficient and effective wind generator that happens to have a minor niche.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “The testing confirmed that the turbine begins exporting power at wind speeds as low as 3.5 m/s [7 mph] and is twice as efficient as several of its competitors.”

    http://www.urbangreenenergy.com/news/uge%E2%80%99s-visionair-wind-turbine-receives-power-curve-certification-intertek

    But they don’t publish the actual power curve. Why not?

    “Several of their competitors” are jokes. Ever hear of damning with faint praise?

    Perhaps these people have something, but they aren’t demonstrating it with that sort of information. This is used car salesmen speak.

  • Steve Grinwis

    Aren’t vertical axis turbines almost universally reviled for their poor reliability? It might be fine for micro-turbines though, I guess. The sheer forces on the bearings won’t be quite so astronomical.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I’ve yet to see a power curve from one that suggested them to be a player.

  • Michael Berndtson

    Nothing sells better than fixing an already existing problem and putting the effort on the front page of Chicago Tribune. Cermak Plaza in Berwyn, IL needs better vertical turbines. This is an urban/suburban area not a leafy suburb. UGE could simply donate some slightly off spec units or should 10 to 12 units were to fall off the back of a truck, I’m sure someone will find time to install. Or they could work with the adjacent high school to get kids jazzed about renewables. Maybe do a performance study comparing the old vertical turbines to the new ones. And turn the effort into a training program for high school students /slash/ marketing endeavor.

    • Peter Gray

      I’m all for getting kids jazzed about renewables, but I’m not convinced this is a good way to do it. It will quickly become obvious that a little VAWT on a roof puts out a tiny amount of power and has an insanely long payback time. That’s likely to turn kids off of renewables, as well as setting up a big bright red target for the Koch Brothers (oops, I meant to say, “local grassroots renewables skeptics”).

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