Clean Power

Published on January 5th, 2013 | by Nicholas Brown


Apple Designs A Wind Energy Storage Concept

January 5th, 2013 by  

Apple Inc, the well-known manufacturer of phones, desktop, laptop, and tablet computers, has reportedly designed a unique energy storage system for wind energy.

Apple energy storage concept. (Credit: U.S Patent and Trademark Office)

It has been looking for ways to power its data center, and it realizes the benefits of wind power, such as zero fuel requirements, the opportunity to support the US economy more by buying US-built turbines, zero pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions, and a cost of 9.7 cents per kWh without government subsidies.

9.7 cents is a low cost; however, the implementation of energy storage increases it, and Apple will need energy storage or backup generators to compensate for power fluctuations, if they are to directly power their data center with it.

Apple’s Concept

Apple’s wind energy storage concept involves using a wind turbine to rotate a shaft that turns a device that has one or more paddles, a propeller, or a drum attached to it and immersed in a volatile fluid.

Here is the patent application’s description of the process:

“Once sufficient heat is transferred to working fluid, the heat may be used to generate electricity. In particular, the heat may boil working fluid (e.g., due to the low boiling point of working fluid), generating vapor that is used to rotate a turbine. Turbine may then be used to drive an electric generator that supplies electricity to a load, such as a motor vehicle, home, business, building, and/or electrical grid. Transfer of heat from low-heat-capacity fluid to working fluid, as well as the resulting generation of electricity from the transferred heat, may be ceased once the energy stored in low-heat-capacity fluid is no longer needed to meet electrical demand.”

This may not be viable at the moment, but working on energy storage concepts for off-grid renewable power is a step in the right direction, especially for the long run.

This patent application was submitted back in June 2011. Who knows if Apple is still hopeful about the technology today? We’ll see.

Apple’s Green Gene

Apple hasn’t been the most open about its environmental effects, but it has actively promoted strong climate change policies on the government level, and it has produced some of the world’s most efficient computers, tablets, and phones. It has also used solar power for some of its needs, including America’s largest end-user-owned, onsite solar array for a LEED Platinum data center in North Carolina.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

  • SolarWindEnergy

    Trying to find info on a wind turbine that was at the front of a ship on Apples new ad. Anyone know where I can find it?

  • This is nice concept if it is going to utilize most of the energy then this would be used in large scale for the generating power. it seems this mechanism would be higher efficient. South Australia Wind Farm Project Profile

  • Oh geez….this thing is a Goldberg. It’s also an expensive and service intensive maintainance problem waiting to happen….a mechanically opertated thermodynamic intermittant battery?
    With the simple, already engaged principle of net metering, there really is no need for this waste of time and materials…..just build a few more windmills, sell the excess to the utility company, and like solar, when it’s dark, use the credit that is built up from over supply.
    Hey listen, I have been a fairly successful inventor, and I know how folks get when “the light buld goes on” so I’m not dissing these guys….but come ON….

  • WilmotMcCutchen

    Wind advocates need to find local pumping and grinding applications instead of turning up the climate change hysteria in their “alternative energy” pitch. At night (when wind is mostly available), electricity is cheap, so selling expensive wind into the grid when nobody is buying makes no economic sense. Wind sites need to be connected to the grid by new transmission lines, which are expensive and contentious. Wind’s intermittency necessitates backup gas generation, so wind is redundant, and with gas so cheap wind can’t compete with its own backup. The highest and best use of this abundant energy source might be cracking the CO2 from conventional power generation.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Your comment fails when you claim that wind-electricity is expensive.

      Natural gas will not remain cheaper than wind, it’s only a penny per kWh cheaper now (median prices). The cost of NG is expected to rise 25% over the next three years which will make gas-e more expensive than wind-e.
      And when you say “climate change hysteria ” you get written off as a nut case.

    • When a large number of wind turbines are spread out over a large enough area, then the output is very consistent – the wind doesn’t stop blowing everywhere at the same time. Another key point is that we need to have a variety of renewable energy sources – so when wind and solar are combined, they compliment each other very well, as the wind tends to blow more at night, and solar peaks when the peak demand for A/C.

      Wave and tidal and solar heat plants also need to be built where they are appropriate. There is a sustainable abundance of renewable energy – way more than we could ever need – and no pollution, no radiation, no hidden health costs, and no military defense required.

      We need to build methane digesters for every sewage plant and large farm for our peaker plants – we can have a renewable supply of “natural” gas; rather than fracking up the countryside.


  • Bob_Wallace

    My offhand impression is that if Apple thought they actually had a good idea here they would have spun off a company and developed it.

    It’s not like they would have had to go begging for startup capital.

  • I think that grid storage batteries are going to be a more efficient way to go. Inserting a novel new process between the turbine blades and electricity means that ALL the electricity is affected by any losses of that novel new system.

    Any time you convert from one form of energy to another (physical-to-heat-to-electricity or physical-to-electricity) then you will have losses. With battery grid storage, once you have made the electricity, it stays as electricity.


  • globi

    Companies like Google or Apple are at the forefront of transforming the information sector with cloud computing/storage, social networks and what not. And yet in the energy sector they often come up concepts with 1900 centralized power plant thinking: “How can we replace an old coal power plant.” and not: “How can we transform the energy sector.”
    Just liked Apple talked to the music industry (replacing CDs with Itunes), they could talk to the power industry to introduce flexible power pricing, smart grid and get rid of excess power capacity and improve integration of renewable power.

    Btw, here’s German guy showing people when they should turn on heavy loads (e.g. washing machine, dryer): (When the dial is in the green or yellow. On weekends it’s always green or yellow).
    But Germany has no flexible power pricing (no incentive for the consumer) and has excess power capacity anyway. So at this point people can just as well run their washing machines and all their loads exclusively in the red.

  • Ronald Brak

    Okay, I think they need to get rid of the mechanical slooshing device and just use a standard wind turbine and use electrical resistance heating to heat the storage medium. A wind turbine is about 90% efficient at turning rotor movement into electricity and generating heat is really the only thing we can do with about 100% efficiency, so wind to electricity to heat is going to be efficient. Doing it this way means there is no need for a special dedicated wind turbine, any source of electricity can be used to generate heat, when there’s no need for storage the electricity from the wind turbine can be used directly, it eliminates a mechanical part – the sloosher, and allows a cheaper solid storage medium to be used if desired. This change turns it into a more typical thermal storage system. Getting electricity from heat is less efficient than putting it in, but that’s the way heat to electricity goes. At best we can manage about 60% efficiency, but it might actually operate at 25%. Generally speaking, the higher the efficiency, the higher the cost.

    And by the way, there’s nothing new here, so it shouldn’t be a patent but a concept.

    • Mechanical transfer of energy may result in lower system complexity than turning rotor movement to electricity, transferring it to a heating point and then using it for resistance heating, especially if the heating point is close to the turbine (so a simple transfer system may be implemented).

      A lot of engineering (and cost) goes into the generator hub of the wind turbine. If the hub can be eliminated and simple shafts can be used to transfer the energy to the storage, that may significantly decrease system costs (hence the low LCOE referred to in the article) and may even improve reliability.

      • Ronald Brak

        Let’s say a normal wind turbine which generates electricity is 90% efficient at turning rotor motion into electricity and so 90% efficient at turning it into heat using electrical resistance heating. And just for fun let’s say a purely mechanical linkage is 100% efficient at turning rotor motion into heat. And let’s say the system operates at around the theoretical peak of 60% efficiency when converting heat into electricity. And let’s say we want to store power and the other half we want to draw it out and it never runs out of heat storage capacity. With these assumptions, with the electric wind turbine every joule of rotor energy will produce 0.72 joules of electricity, while for for the wind turbine with the purely mechanical linkage it will only produce 0.6 joules of electricity as it can’t directly feed electricity to the grid but has to work through the thermal storage system. This is a significant disadvantage.

    • globi

      I agree. Also, it simply makes much more sense to use excess wind energy for hot water purposes (using resistance heaters) and simply save fossil fuels (e.g. for already existing combined cycle gas power plants). (Instead of wasting fossil fuels in hot water heaters and then use wind energy to produce electricity at 75% loss using this contraption. Many locomotives don’t even have a mechanical link between the engine and the
      wheels: Even though they have an engine which produces power on demand. A wind turbine with a 400
      feet tower is also far less compact than a locomotive and the nacelle is moving relative to the tower…)

      Besides, people shouldn’t read to much into patent applications. Some R&D departments even have the obligation to produce x dozens of patent applications per year. And their IP departments often do not have the technical skills and market/state-of-the-art overview needed to properly asses the value of an ‘invention’.

      • globi

        And patent lawyers write any patent application.
        Bad inventions and bad application are even somewhat incentivized, since the examiner will initially reject it and the patent lawyer will then rewrite (weaken) the claims until the examiner accepts it. (More income for the patent lawyer.)

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