Wind power has been around for a long time. For commercial applications, there are massive turbines with wings the size of 747s.
For home, there have been a number of options, but durability has been a concern, as well as bird safety. Solar has seen much wider adoption, but it doesn’t work everywhere …
Now there’s a solution from an Icelandic company that looks safe and affordable. To learn more, we chat with Sam Gerbus from IceWind “extreme energy solutions” in this episode of TechFirst with John Koetsier.
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John Koetsier: Will wind one day power your home for free? Welcome to TechFirst with John Koetsier.
Wind power we know has been around for a long time. And obviously for commercial applications, there’s some massive turbines out there with wings the size of literally 747s or even longer. For home, there’s been a number of options but durability has been a concern, and of course, along with the big ones, bird safety as well. We’ve actually seen more adoption from solar, put it on the roof, forget about it, but it doesn’t work everywhere.
I live in Canada near Vancouver, and we don’t have sunshine that much in the winter sometimes. But now there’s a solution for wind energy from an Icelandic company that looks pretty safe and looks affordable as well.
To learn more, we’re joined by Sam Gerbus, he’s from IceWind “extreme energy solutions.” Welcome!
Sam Gerbus: Thank you, John. I appreciate it.
John Koetsier: Excellent. I want to get into your wind power generator — what it looks like, how it works, all that stuff — but let’s set the stage first. Where does wind fit in the global energy system?
Sam Gerbus: So wind is actually a major player in grid energy here in the United States.
Wind accounts for about 7.2% of America’s total grid energy, and as of 2019, it was over a hundred thousand megawatt capacity.
So it’s quite a big player, there’s a lot of applications nationwide.
John Koetsier: That is amazing. I did not know it was that big in the U.S. I know there’s been some Scandinavian countries that have powered themselves on clean, green energy almost 100% for periods of time, and wind has been a big part of that. But 7.2% in the U.S., I mean, that’s not a rounding error anymore, that’s not a 0.3% or 2% anymore.
Sam Gerbus: Yeah, and various sources such as the American Wind Energy Association estimate that by 2030 around 20% of the nation’s grid infrastructure can be powered by wind energy.
John Koetsier: Wonderful!
Sam Gerbus: And this includes kind of up and coming offshore wind farms as well, so there’s a lot of really exciting innovations here in the wind industry.
John Koetsier: Wow, interesting. What are the best uses? I mean, we talked about home a little bit. We talked about commercial applications with very large turbines and stuff like that. Where do you see the best applications?
Sam Gerbus: So I think wind really varies kind of in terms of large and small-scale applications for providing nationwide grid infrastructure. You know, you want those large, megawatt wind farms, those big windmills you see, the 110-meter diameter blades. For more small-scale wind, that is kind of an industry that we at IceWind want to tackle, for on and off-grid use to power your home, power your cabin, power various commercial and residential sectors. That’s quite a developing industry right now, currently. The vast majority of wind capacity, you know, are those large farms.
John Koetsier: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Contextualize a little bit. So there’s a variety of sources for clean, green energy, right? Wind’s one of them. Solar’s another which is growing as well. Geothermal perhaps, a few other … wave is always kind of in and around there, right, all that other stuff. Contextualize them a little bit in terms of size and also growth rate.
Sam Gerbus: Yeah. So as I said, wind is one of the fastest growing renewable energy sources. And it really depends on where you are for kind of what renewable source is going to work for you and your region. For example, you said you’re in Vancouver.
Well, in Arizona, you’re probably not going to want a wind farm. You’re probably going to want more of a solar array and in a windy, cloudy environment, you’re going to want wind turbines and not more of a solar array. And then, like our company in IceWind that has plenty of geothermal capability, that’s what you utilize there. So various regions, you know, it depends on where you are and what kind of renewable energy source you want to use.
And I think that’s the most beautiful part because any region, no matter where you are, has some sort of ability to utilize a renewable energy source. And I think the growth rate, especially for wind and solar, is huge in this nation.
John Koetsier: And the actual really interesting thing is, I mean, that’s where a grid comes in. We talked a little bit in the intro, or before the intro, about decentralizing our grid and other things like that. And we’ll get into that and how your solution works for that. But that’s one of the nice things about having a grid is you’ve got solar in Arizona.
You’ve got wind in, I don’t know, give me a windy spot in the U.S., or in Canada, or something like that. And you can push power where you need it, right?
Sam Gerbus: Mm-hmm.
John Koetsier: Cool. So let’s talk about your solution. We talked about the big turbine, the big windmill blades. Yours is a very different design, it’s like six or seven blades. It’s … I don’t even know if you can show it right now. We can share your screen if you have something that you can bring up, but it’s a very cool, innovative design. Where’d that come from?
Sam Gerbus: Well, so if you’re listening to the podcast live right now, you can head over to icewindusa.com and kind of see what we’re talking about.
But what we have designed over at IceWind is actually a vertical axis wind turbine. The large farms you see, those are called horizontal axis turbines.
The large difference is those big turbines, when wind comes from different directions you either need to use a gearbox to change those blades to face that wind direction, or stop them and change it. Vertical axis wind turbines are omni-directional. We can take wind from any direction.
John Koetsier: Wow!
Sam Gerbus: And what really sets IceWind and what we’re doing apart from any other commercial wind turbine, small-scale vertical axis wind turbine that’s been made, is we have a very unique combination of blades. Like you said, we have a large number of blades, we actually have six.
We have a set of inner blades that provides low startup speeds and kind of self speed-regulation so our turbines don’t go into overspin.
Our outer blades are made of aircraft grade aluminum and they are an airfoil design, a Darrieus type of blade. And what these do is these provide lift. So when the turbine gets up and spinning, these lift properties get the turbine spinning more and more greater RPMs and thus greater power generation.
John Koetsier: Interesting, interesting. And what’s the durability here? I mean, we’ve seen some of the videos of those massive 747-style blades disintegrating when the wind got too much or something like that. What’s the scenario here?
Sam Gerbus: Well, that is a classic problem of overspin. Because we designed our turbines to function in Iceland, we had to design for extreme conditions. So through our material selection and safety procedures, we have designed our turbines to withstand more than 130 mile per hour winds.
John Koetsier: Wow.
Sam Gerbus: So, hurricane winds. We have implemented seals and various procedures to protect the gearbox from icing, and particles, and rain, and anything you don’t want to get in that gearbox, and to slow you down or to ruin your turbine. So durability was one of the biggest kind of factors we wanted to engineer into our wind turbines.
In fact, our Freya design, our commercial wind turbine we’re talking about today has a lifespan of 30 years … with negligible maintenance.
John Koetsier: Interesting. Very, very cool. Talk about the safety. Obviously when you’ve got a big spinning blade somewhere you may not want to stick that on your roof where, you know, if you have an accident it flies off, goes in your backyard, and you’re all of a sudden missing an arm or something like that. I’m not saying that that is a common scenario, but it’s something that you would think about, right? I mean, if you need to get on your roof to do some maintenance or you’re around your house and you have a big spinning blade.
Is this a safer thing, but also, is it better for birds?
Sam Gerbus: Yes. So the problem that arises with wind turbines and birds are actually two things: whipper blades and lattice towers. And these are the two factors that go into bird safety and are what usually you think of when you hear wind turbines and destroying birds.
Whipper blades are like 6+ multi-blade, quite sharp that are available in a lot of commercial, horizontal axis wind turbines, and those as well as kind of those lattice structures I just spoke of are most detrimental to birds. Now what you’ve said, yes, just like any wind turbine, you don’t want to go stick your hand in there. That is not going to go well with any wind turbine, you’re probably going to break an arm or lose an arm.
But our wind turbines are completely safe in terms of local wildlife, as well as operate under 30 decibels of noise level, so they’re essentially silent.
John Koetsier: Interesting, interesting. Yeah, that’s another question, right? How noisy are they? I know that that came up sometimes when there was wind farms that were put in an area and is it super noisy or not? So let’s talk about what the output is, and can you power your house off of this? How many would you need? All those sorts of things.
Sam Gerbus: So we have various models in production right now. Currently we are rolling out with our commercial turbine, the Freya, which we also have a larger scale model coming down the road.
Now, this model uses a generator that is generally capable of about 150 to 200 watts at about 11 meters per second wind speed, with a greater capability at greater speeds. Later on down the road, we have a model that is capable of 7 to 12 times that power output.
John Koetsier: Wow.
Sam Gerbus: And then in our residential series we have models that are capable of greater than 500 watts and greater than a kilowatt, and achieve much greater power than that. Now the purpose of our wind turbines isn’t necessarily to power a home. If you want to do that, we recommend models in conjunction with solar, other energy sources, kind of a hybrid method.
But if you have like a small cabin, or a small property, or various off-grid locations, or even on-grid to reduce your meter costs. That is where our turbines are applicable. As of now, our smallest model is more of a supplementary power source and not a dominant source.
John Koetsier: Mm-hmm, you could stack a couple of them if you had enough room or something like that.
Sam Gerbus: Yes you could, certainly.
John Koetsier: Put two of them on the roof or somewhere else around the property and get more power out of it. I mean, that’s kind of a dream of mine really, is to build my own house someday and put some solar in, some wind in, and connect to the grid, sell excess power back to the grid, get it when I need it, all that sort of stuff. I’m sure many people think about that as well.
Talk about the cost of the wind turbine that you’re releasing now for home use and what’s the payback period. Is there a payback [period], how long does it take til you’ve paid yourself back for that?
Sam Gerbus: That is, the payback period is something we’re still calculating because we’ve made improvements on the design, so we’re doing further testing and viability.
But you know, with most renewable energy sources, you can expect the payback period to be between maybe 5 years to 10 years if you’re looking at a serious solution.
But like you said, building your home when you pair a wind energy source with something like a solar source, as well as perhaps batteries for off-grid use charging technologies, that’s when you’re really starting to make a massive dent in your electricity costs and then really starting to, you know, access a much quicker payback period.
John Koetsier: Interesting. Talk a little bit about the power grid, the electrical grid of the future, right. What’s that look like when you cast your mind out, I don’t know, 5 years, 10 years, maybe even a little longer.
Do you see something that’s eventually getting much more decentralized where generation is not just in one place for a region, but generation is spread throughout pretty much all the homes and then the grid is more about sharing the electricity and where it needs to go, versus delivering it?
Sam Gerbus: I personally believe we’re going to see a lot of change and a lot of innovation in the electricity grid of the future. I’m very hopeful about it in terms of renewable energy sources as well.
I like to look at a country like Iceland that is pretty much completely carbon neutral and powered off of geothermal power and various other sources.
We are seeing more and more homes and buildings, and various places starting to use backup diesel generators for supplementary power sources. And we hope through products like our wind turbines and other renewable energy sources, to make it accessible to not only utilize renewable energy as a supplementary source, but use it to completely power your home.
John Koetsier: Yeah.
Sam Gerbus: So I think moving forward, we’re going to have a great energy grid powered from renewable energy sources like growing wind, offshore wind, and so forth. But I also think there’s going to be a much greater possibility to power your home off-grid, you know, with evolving battery storage technology and all these innovations and renewable energy. It’s going to be so much easier than it is today to completely function off-grid or in a small community.
John Koetsier: Yeah, yeah. What’s that look like to somebody who is thinking about starting that and whether it’s completely off-grid or they just want to supplement or something like that, what do they need to put together? Let’s say they get a wind turbine, maybe some solar, I guess they need a battery.
Sam Gerbus: Yeah.
John Koetsier: What’s that look like put together?
Sam Gerbus: So, if you want to pursue an on-grid solution, you know, just like you need for solar, you need a grid tie inverter which takes the renewable energy source and kind of injects it into the grid or so forth. And then for off-grid solutions, you can get various chargers or charge controllers to whether you want it to tie it directly into what you’re powering, or to charge a series of batteries or so forth, you can do that as well.
So our wind turbines especially, we like to, we engineered them for simplicity.
So if you had a few torque wrenches and so forth, you could assemble one of these like you do on a piece of Ikea furniture. We like to make them that simple and that smart, but you know, we want professionally installed and assembled, and then we would use something like a local electrician or something to tie that into your grid or for off-grid use.
John Koetsier: Yeah.
Sam Gerbus: It’s quite simple.
John Koetsier: Interesting. And of course, I guess we need some regulatory movement as well, because it’s not always super simple in every jurisdiction — certainly in Canada, I believe in the States as well — in terms of how do you tie into a grid, how to send power back on the grid, what they pay you for that power, or if they pay you for that power. How’s that evolving?
Sam Gerbus: So there are much more initiatives to encourage people to utilize renewable energy sources and to kind of take your electricity meter down, and as well as give some money back. Who knows what we’ll see here in the near future. There are some presidential candidates running in this November [election] who are proposing different climate plans to utilize more renewable energy sources, and encouraging everything from large-scale enterprises to small-scale renewable usage. So seeing stuff like that and how it’s going to affect kind of your on-grid meter money back is going to be really exciting to see. I think it’s a very dynamic and evolving future.
John Koetsier: Yeah. And I mean also if you live in California and the kind of power issues that they’ve had recently with the wildfires sparking and then power just being shut down. I mean, it’s almost, especially we’re working at home right now through COVID-19, if you’re a knowledge worker you’re using your laptop, your internet, all that stuff, and your power goes out you’re toast. It might almost be a necessity to have some sort of backup capacity.
Sam Gerbus: Let’s not forget all those homes in places like Texas that are continually hit with hurricanes that even the flooding and the weather destroys their diesel generators.
John Koetsier: Yeah.
Sam Gerbus: We’re built to withstand that, certainly.
John Koetsier: Interesting. Well, thank you so much for your time, really do appreciate it. It’s been a fun chat and wish you the best.
Sam Gerbus: Yeah. Thank you very much, John. I appreciate your time.
John Koetsier: Excellent. Well thank you for being along with us on TechFirst. My name of course is John Koetsier, I appreciate you being along. Whatever platform you’re on, hey, like, subscribe, share, comment, all the above. If you’re on the podcast later and you enjoyed it, please rate it and review it. Thank you so much and have a great day!