A multi-year research program has generated a working prototype for a vertical-axis wind turbine that is capable of powering cellular communication equipment. The turbine is designed to be affixed to already existing communication towers and thereby has a reduced cost of installation. The turbine is driven by air drag forces rather than by lift. It has a number of novel features including venting slots that are created to reduce the thrust loading on the communication tower. In addition, contoured caps are affixed to the upper and lower edges of the turbine blades to increase power production. As previously mentioned, the turbine design itself is a drag-based concept rather than the more typical lift-driven devices. The advantages of the drag-based design are: 1. lower startup wind speed, 2. slower rotation and a lessened vibrational load on the tower, 3. less sensitive to wind direction, and 4. it can be aligned with the tower.
The design of the device was carried out through a combination of numerical simulation and experimentation. The simulations have evolved from preliminary two-dimensional calculations to a fully three dimensional, unsteady, computational fluid dynamic analysis. Simultaneously, the experiments have included both in-field and wind-tunnel tests of various stages of the turbine design.
An outcome of the effort is a third-generation working vertical-axis wind turbine (VAWT) that is currently being evaluated with in-field tests. The results of the tests are positive and confirm the expectations that were developed during the product design phase. The turbine, which can be constructed with various rotor stages, has the capability of producing approximately 2–3 kW of power in wind-speed environments of 12–16 m/s. These power production levels are greatly in excess of that required to fully power the electronics equipment on a typical cellular communication tower. Unfortunately, subsequent tests showed that the turbine production dropped approximately sevenfold. The cause of the decrease in performance was friction in the mechanical components which coupled the rotating shaft to the support structure. This recognition reinforces the importance of low-resistance mechanical design for VAWTs.
Another aspect of the turbine design is the specialized electronics which allow the electronics to adapt to local wind speeds and consequently increase the efficiency of the power production.