Wednesday, July 22, 2009, Fatheads Bar and Grill – North Olmsted, OH
Professor J. Iwan Alexander, of Case Western Reserve University, talked with the Glenn Academy concerning the energy crisis in America. His presentation kicked off with a discussion of his recent work with the Great Lakes Institute, which is studying the possibility of placing a wind farm on Lake Erie. He expanded on the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy generation and also touched on ways to improve the current designs. One method to improve the design of a windmill would be to place the generator at the bottom of the mast of the windmill, instead of at the top. This would significantly reduce maintenance costs associated with generators mounted at the top of the windmill, since they are only accessible via large cranes.
A second method of improving windmill designs was to figure out a way to reduce the noise these windmills create. If that was done, the blades would be able to rotate at a higher rate given the same noise constraints. This high rotational rate would enable engineers to install smaller and less costly generators in the windmills.
Another important topic covered by Professor Alexander was that of energy storage. Numerous energy producing technologies such as nuclear, wind, and solar oftentimes do not produce energy at the same rate as the customer’s demand for energy is created. Because of this discrepancy, numerous shortages and surpluses of energy occur regularly. If a method could be found to store surplus energy and release it during times of shortages, power plants could be run at optimal efficiency nearly all the time.
Such energy storage methods include hydro-storage, where energy is stored in the form of gravitational potential energy in water, and compressed-air storage, where a turbine spins to extract stored energy from compressed air. The ideas of improved batteries and ultra-capacitors were also discussed. Overall, Professor Alexander stressed the importance of the need for the world to develop a sustainable energy economy in the near future.