With wind and solar energy being the two most dominant forms of renewable energy sources conventionally being harnesses all over the world, researchers are now trying to improvise new sources of clean energy, which can be used to produce renewable energy at a low cost. Working on the same lines researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta have placed their bets on small whirlwinds or dust devils, produced as a result of convention currents that form between hot air closer to the ground and cooler air just a meter or so above it.
Dubbed the Solar Vortex, the system channels these currents using an array of fixed blades or vanes, turning airflow into a vortex, which turns a turbine at the device’s center. No power is needed to kick start the process as the position of the vanes help start the vortex to start spontaneously. Moreover, as warm air rises above the ground, more air rushes in to keep the system functioning.
The developers state that the maintenance and installation costs of the system would be far less than conventional wind turbines, as the system won’t need any expensive towers to catch the wind. Moreover, since the ground temperature varies slowly throughout the day, the system also generates a steady supply of renewable energy hours after the sunset.
At present, the researchers have tested a small, 1-meter version of the vortex that drives a turbine to create a few watts of power using nothing more than a solar heated metal sheet. However, they believe that the output scales up rapidly when a larger turbine is employed and calculations suggest that a 10-meter diameter turbine will be able to produce 50kW of power and an array of these vortex turbines will be producing about 16MW for every square kilometer of land. Comparing that with conventional wind energy, turbines placed on the same area would generate up to 6MW of power. The team also estimates that electricity produced by the system will be 20 percent cheaper than electricity produced by wind and 65 percent cheaper than solar power.