The enemies of offshore wind energy are claiming a victory this week, but they are about to lose the war. Offshore projects are continuing to make progress in the US, and new low cost wind turbine innovations are also taking shape. In the latest example, the Wyoming startup Airloom Energy is on track to launch a radical new design that can shave down the cost of wind farms — onshore and off — by double digits.
If Breakthrough Energy Ventures Says It’s Okay, Then It’s Okay
CleanTechnica has gotten an earful over the years whenever we cover radical new wind turbine designs, especially at the smaller end of the scale, so we tend to exercise caution in that area. One of the elements we consider is whether or not a new technology has attracted notice from high risk, high reward public sector investors like the Energy Department’s ARPA-E funding office.
Private sector investors also go into our calculation, and that’s where the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund comes in. The A-list fund was launched on the heels of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, aimed at scaling up new clean technologies in support of the Bill Gates-sponsored Breakthrough Energy Coalition.
Companies in the Breakthrough portfolio regularly come across the CleanTechnica radar, including the energy storage startup ESS, the geothermal startup Fervo, the electric aircraft firm Heart Aerospace, and the EV battery innovator Redwood Materials, among others (here’s another example).
That’s why today’s news from Airloom caught our attention. A spokesperson for the company confirmed that it has secured a $4 million round of seed funding spearheaded by Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Lending an assist with the round was Lowercarbon Capital, which is also a Heart Aerospace investor. Among other participants was the energetic fund MCJ Collective., a backer of the sustainable lithium startup Lilac Solutions.
So, What Does A Radical New Wind Turbine Look Like?
If you’re on the lookout for crazy looking wind turbines, look no farther. At this stage of development, the Airloom concept looks more like a rather aggressive clothesline rather than a device for harvesting wind energy.
Instead of mounting massive blades on gigantic turbine towers, the Airloom device consists of 10-meter wings that travel along a lightweight track, supported by a series of poles that are only 25 meters high. Depending on the desired scale, the track can range in length from meters to miles. The height of the track can also vary.
The low-profile arrangement runs counter to the trend of wind turbines that reach high into skies with longer blades to capture the most efficient wind resources. However, depending on the landscape, local wind conditions, and neighbors, a more modest silhouette could open up a wide range of new sites where conventional turbines are either impractical or restricted by local laws.
Here’s What Airloom Says
Bizarre-looking it may be, but Airloom’s test-scale device was enough to convince Breakthrough and other investors. The cash infusion will enable Airloom to scale up from the current development phase of 50 kilowatts, leading to megawatt-scale devices and full deployment in wind farms where megawatts are counted by the hundreds.
If all goes according to plan, Airloom calculates that its wind farms can be built for less than 25% of the cost to build a conventional wind project. That may seem over-ambitious, but the company estimates that its device costs less than 10% of the cost of comparable wind turbines.
We’re guessing that another big part of the savings involves the elimination of extra transportation costs and obstacles, which bedevil conventional wind turbines. Airloom has designed a 2.5-megawatt device to fit a standard tractor trailer, enabling it to traverse the curving roads, bridges, and tunnels that can impede conventional turbine transportation.
The company also states that the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for its new wind turbine design is only 1/3 that of conventional turbines. LCOE is a complicated calculation that provides a baseline for comparing energy projects that differ with respect to key elements including technologies, lifespans, size, capital costs, and other factors.
The Offshore Wind Factor
Airloom also notes that its new wind turbine can be configured vertically or horizontally, and that it can be deployed offshore as well as on land.
CleanTechnica has reached out to the company for more details on the offshore angle. For now let’s just say that would be a gamechanger for the offshore wind industry, which has been engaged in a 20-year fight against political headwinds to get a foothold in the US market.
New Jersey has been front and center in the battle. During the wind-friendly Obama administration, former Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie became notorious for slow-walking offshore wind development in New Jersey, reportedly with the backing of fossil energy stakeholders.
The Biden administration has taken steps to make up for lost offshore wind ground, but in New Jersey those efforts have been met with opposition reportedly promoted by — you guessed it — fossil energy stakeholders.
In the latest news, on October 18 officials in Cape May County filed a joint lawsuit seeking to block two New Jersey offshore wind farms, Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2. Both are — correction, were — under development by the leading global energy firm Ørsted. On October 31, Ørsted announced that it is dropping both projects, citing “high inflation, rising interest rates, and supply chain bottlenecks.”
Though Ørsted did not mention the lawsuit, Cape May officials nevertheless took credit for the win. No word yet on whether or not they also want credit for losing billions in economic opportunities — including hundreds of new construction jobs — for their fellow New Jersey residents.
We’ll wait. In the meantime, Ørsted is still forging ahead with plans for the massive 888-megawatt Revolution Wind offshore project serving Connecticut and Rhode Island, so new jobs are being created there.
Hundreds of new offshore jobs are also heading to Virginia, where the Biden administration has green-lighted the even more massive 2,600 megawatt Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, taking shape under the wing of the US firm Dominion Energy.
In addition, offshore wind industry stakeholders still anticipate that New Jersey will play a key role in supporting offshore wind development along the Eastern seaboard as a turbine manufacturing and logistics hub.
The low cost, low profile offshore wind turbine solution offered by Airloom could also play a role in future projects off the coast of New Jersey, though that remains to be seen.
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Image: A new wind energy harvesting device replaces the conventional wind turbine configuration with wings that travel on a track (courtesy of Airloom Energy).
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