It’s really beginning to feel as though the problem of climate change is a huge boulder rolling down a steep hill, and we have the Sisyphean task of trying to reverse it. While we definitely need to switch as much of the planet over to clean, green energy as soon as possible, the deployment should be strategic. You know, solar panels in sunny places, and wind turbines in windy places. And for the most part, we’re already doing that.
In the meantime, there are also natural disasters to deal with, some of which are worsened by climate change. Eastern and Southeast Asian countries are frequently under the threat of typhoons that bring strong, turbulent winds with them. Once the storms pass, they leave large swaths of lengthy power outages in their wake.
Studies have shown that these storms are gaining strength over the years, leading to more frequent disruption of existing power systems in those areas. Wind power is the ideal solution where storms have come through and knocked out traditional power delivery all over a region. As long as the turbines themselves can stand up to the challenge, they can be used to power micro-grids when other delivery is knocked out.
Bring On the Typhoons?
Unfortunately, the conventional three-bladed wind turbines you see dotting the plains can’t stand up to the awesome power of typhoons. But vertical axis wind turbines can. Though they have been around for many years, they may have finally found their niche.
When engineers are designing buildings, bridges, or other large construction projects, a lot of thought is given to the environment. Some of these considerations might seem obvious, like designing a skyscraper in San Francisco to tolerate earthquakes, building a stadium in New York City to hold up not only its own weight but the weight of several feet of snow on the roof, or constructing bridges in any coastal area to be able to tolerate salt spray. Not everything is this straightforward, though. Not only do the structures themselves have to tolerate the environmental conditions they are in, but the equipment that is used to build them must tolerate these conditions as well, specifically the large cranes that are often semi-permanently attached to their construction sites.
Perhaps the most extreme example of this in recent memory was during Typhoon Manghut as it hit Hong Kong. There were several large construction cranes that didn’t fare too well with the high winds. At least one toppled as a result and catching the free-spinning of another on video is more than enough to make you gasp. Other videos of construction cranes surfaced from this typhoon showing some concerning, but surprisingly well-designed, emergency operation of the same type of crane.
While wind energy is rapidly increasing its market share across the world, wind turbines are not able to be constructed everywhere that they might be needed. A perfect example of this is Japan, where a traditional wind turbine would get damaged by typhoons. After the Fukushima disaster, though, one Japanese engineer committed himself to building a turbine specifically for Japan that can operate just fine within hurricane-force winds. (YouTube, embedded below.)
The “typhoon turbine” as it is known works via the Magnus effect, where a spinning object directs air around it faster on one side than on the other. This turbine uses three Magnus effect-driven cylinders with a blade on each one, which allows the turbine to harvest energy no matter how high the wind speeds are. The problem with hurricanes and typhoons isn’t just the wind, but also what the wind blows around. While there is no mention of its impact resistance it certainly looks like it has been built as robustly as possible.