We've seen our share of interesting wind power designs, but often the technology can't come anywhere close to matching what the traditional horizontal axis wind turbines can do. There's a reason that when we think of wind energy, we think of giant masts with rotating blades and it's because that design is incredibly effective -- just look at Scotland and other areas around the world that now get a majority of their electricity needs from wind power.
The design isn't without its flaws; those rotating blades do pose a hazard to birds and bats and the cost of manufacturing and installing all of those giant parts can be expensive. When it comes to offshore wind power in the U.S., that has been a major roadblock. The energy generation potential is huge, but so is the cost.
An energy start-up company called Accio Energy -- yes, a Harry Potter reference -- thinks it has a solution to that problem, one that will generate as much if not more energy from offshore wind than a traditional wind turbine, but at half the cost. There are no moving parts, instead Accio's technology consists of large permeable panels on masts that let the ocean winds blow right through.
The technology behind the wind energy generators is unique. The panels emit a fine mist of positively-charged sea water droplets. When the wind blows through them, it separates positive and negative charges as it moves the mist, which builds up to an almost 200,000 volt direct electric current that the system transmits through a high voltage cable back to the electrical grid on land.
The process is called ElectroHydroDynamics (EHD) and the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has granted Accio $5 million to test the technology at scale. The company is working on a prototype that should be ready for testing in a year or two.
Accio believes that it can cut the cost of offshore wind energy generation by up to 50 percent through easier installation and high efficiency. The parts for the system can be transported by typical 18-wheel flatbed trucks instead of needing special equipment like large turbines do and once they reach the coast they can be put in place by conventional ships. Also, the systems will float which removes the need for expensive infrastructure like that needed to fix turbines to the ocean floor.
The company also says that its technology has a 40 percent higher capacity factor and can quickly scale up to gigawatts of electricity capacity by arranging the systems in an array. Accio believes that the systems can achieve unsubsidized cost parity with coal and natural gas, which would make offshore wind generation with EHD the cheapest energy option for most of the world.
The company is focusing on the testing phase and looking to team up with industrial partners to accelerate the speed at which they can deploy the wind energy generators over the coming years.