On Quora recently, someone asked “Windstrument – yet another revolutionary wind turbine. Have they got it right?“. I answered, there and have reposted my answer here.
I have a set of 13 questions I always ask when confronted with yet-another-wind-energy-innovation to give it a quick sniff test. I asked these questions of the Windstrument based on publicly available information from their website, Twitter feed, etc. For background on the questions, please see this material: Invest carefully: Wind innovations are rarely kosher.
This company manages a record 10 out of 13 red flags, beating even the remarkably bad Saphonian Saphon generator. It will be going in the place of shame at the bottom of the list of “wind innovations” I maintain here: Good and bad bets: new wind technologies rated. It’s also a dead venture as far as I can tell: the websites are dead or haven’t been updated for 14 months, and the Twitter feed updates stopped three months ago.
First off, though, what is the Windstrument? It’s a helical torque generating wind turbine, basically just a fancy farm water pump, one of those slatted disks familiar from western movies. They make the interesting claim that they can stack tons of these things side by side and around one another with no detrimental flow effects so that it is “easily and infinitely expandable”.
Technology Red Flags
- Do they claim to exceed Betz’ Limit? - Red Flag – “average of 90% increase in captured energy”
- Is it an old technology claiming to be a new technology? - Red Flag - Helical wind turbines have been tried and failed in vertical and horizontal configurations in the past. They are straightforward torque generators with no aerodynamic efficiencies adding impetus, and as such are seriously restricted in generation capability.
- Is their product just a design concept as opposed to at least a working and tested prototype? - Green - They claim to have done wind tunnel tests and show pictures of physical devices.
- Are the only test results from tests that they have performed as opposed to independent, third-party labs, and do they expose the numbers? - Red Flag - no published numbers exist. Claims are solely that, claims. No independent organization testing is asserted.
- Are claimed patents for devices other than the one they are demonstrating? = Green - US Patent US8226369 B2 is actually for the device described in press material. Note that there about a dozen other helical wind turbines patented as well.
- Are they claiming greater efficiency than existing generation technologies based on anything other than an ISO standard full lifecycle accounting that has been independently assessed? - RED FLAG - Yes, they are claiming “that is price competitive with standard energy sources.” however they have no price list and no published LCA. They never got to manufacturing as far as I can tell.
- Are they claiming to integrate storage into their wind generation device without a market niche need? RED FLAG - Yes: “has an internal power storage capability”. Note: this is a red flag for two reasons. It specifically addresses a myth related to utility-scale wind energy related to backup and energy storage is almost alway best done with a separate component as it will be cheaper.
Business Model Red Flags
- Do the principals have backgrounds entirely in fields unrelated to wind energy? RED FLAG - A plastics manufacture, a guy whose only claim to fame in wind energy is this helicoid wind whozit and having spent time on an Americas Cup boat, and a holding company that is now defunct - Unified Energies International
- Are they starting from a product as opposed to a specific and tightly targeted market niche? - RED FLAG - They make claims to be residential, urban, utility-scale, marine, etc. Their ineffective generator is the best choice for everything?
- Are they claiming that their product will replace utility-scale three-blade wind turbines? - RED FLAG – “Windstrument™ was developed for both residential use and utility scale projects”
- Does the product introduce major new liabilities e.g. downwind throw of solid flying wind turbines and cable, or varying flight obstructions? – Green
Marketing Red Flags
- Do they disparage other wind generation technologies to establish their technology’s superiority? - Red Flag - “quiet”, “bird safe”, “power storage”, “shadow flicker”, “safe for humans”, “do not have to build highways or cement/asphalt roads”, “only workable wind power solution for seafaring vessels”
- Do they have a web-site that is just a facade or is missing entirely? - RED FLAG - http://www.unifiedenergies.com website is a dead facade that points to the http://www.windstrument.com website, which hasn’t been updated since 8/7/2012.