- After focusing on a set of hard to classify renewable energy technologies in the last News Snippets, this month I turn my attention to advances in wind power. Sandia National Laboratories is exploring vertical-axis wind turbines for offshore energy production. A vertical-axis turbine is one where the blades spin around a central, upright tower as opposed to the ‘pinwheel’ turbines most of have seen before. A vertical-axis turbine could reduce the cost of offshore wind as they are more stable, have fewer parts and can be made larger. A Cambridge University engineer is taking a different approach to improving the efficiency of offshore wind production by reducing the energy expended to install and stabilize the turbines. Currently, offshore turbines are installed using large amounts of steel and cement to lock them to the ocean floor – this infrastructure is costly to install and maintain. The Cambridge engineer envisions a system of turbines anchored to the bottom of the ocean with steel cables – this free floating concept could nearly double the efficiency of offshore wind turbines.
Kites maybe a low cost and reliable way to harvest wind power in many environments as they can fly much higher where winds are stronger and more reliable. Further, the infrastructure required for a kite farm is much less than is needed for traditional farms of wind turbines. A startup called Kite Gen has developed a system where a tethered kite climbs into the sky, turns an alternator as it does and thereby generates a current. A team of German researchers at NTS GmbH have taken a different approach whereby they attach kites to vehicles secured on energy generating rails. As the kites are tugged by the wind, they pull these vehicles around the rails which covert kinetic energy to electricity.
One criticism of wind turbines with large metal blades has been the damage they can cause to bird populations. Inventor Raymond Green has developed a turbine with no exposed blades which promises to harness wind power without harming birds. The turbine uses a cone to funnel wind over blades that are completely housed inside an inaccessible metal compartment. And finally, GE has partnered with academic and government researchers to develop lightweight, strong fabrics which could replace the heavier material used currently for wind turbine blades.
- Why doesn’t every community have a green map like this one? Kudos to the Sarasota County (FL) GIS team for creating a valuable resource such as this that is both informative and easy to use. The labels are bold and nicely colored while the buttons at the top of the screen reveal a set of interesting ‘environment-related’ locations. With the online map, users can find local community gardens, trails and even green marinas.
- Given that it’s February, I could not resist Googling, “GIS and Valentine’s Day,” on a slow Friday afternoon and was pleasantly surprised to run across a small collection of GIS jokes on the Dickinson College website. So when you have a slow Friday at work, check out this website and hopefully you will come away with a smile on your face!
- From the chilly city of Anchorage which we featured last month, we head south to Arizona’s largest city, Phoenix, and explore their online GIS resources. Phoenix’s readily-accessible GIS data is (unfortunately for the advanced user) only available through an interactive web map. The map is a bit old-fashion feeling but it gives you access to a wide array of layers including schools, points of interest, parcels and even alleys. For those looking for shapefiles to use in ArcGIS or aerial imagery as TIFFs, you will have to order that data here.
Brock Adam McCarty