Improving the aerodynamic efficiency of small wind turbines

Improving the aerodynamic efficiency of small wind turbines

Alternative energy sources have been the topic of strong deliberation across the world for quite some years now. The world dreads the day when traditionally known sources of energy would no longer support the surging demands of modern human needs. Developing means of efficiently extracting energy from alternative sources then, assumes critical importance; for example, energy generation from small wind turbines, that could cater to the energy needs of stand-alone, off grid units. Research being conducted by Jasvipul S Chawla at the IITB-Monash Research Academy in Mumbai will enable small wind turbines to become a dependable, alternative source of energy in areas where easy access to electricity is still a pipe dream.

Jasvipul Chawla's research focuses specifically on improving the aerodynamic efficiency of small wind turbines, which will increase the overall power output of these turbines. Small wind turbines have so far been comparatively less efficient than large wind turbines because they lack aerodynamic efficiency. In other words, the blades of small wind turbines are inherently unsuited to extracting energy out of low wind speeds. They are usually installed close to the site of energy consumption. These areas often have a lower wind potential than the areas where larger, commercial wind turbines are installed. However, during his research, Jasvipul Chawla found that when suction based flow control is applied to the blades, the output can be increased by 600Watts for a 1 KW range turbine operating in low and medium wind speeds. The flow control process itself requires less than 100W of power, as research results from 'Wind Tunnel' tests showed.

The rising prices of natural fuel and electricity have been a cause for concern across urban India, with no respite in sight till feasible alternative forms of energy are developed. On the flipside, in the rural areas, more than 33% of the villages do not even have access to electricity yet. Adding to this concern is the persistent hike in global warming and carbon footprint statistics. In this gloomy scenario, renewable energy, such as is derived from small wind turbines, beams in like a new ray of hope.

The idea of small wind turbines as a viable, alternative source of energy is still in its nascent stages in India; whereas large wind turbines have already been used extensively. Small wind turbine technology can be used as a socio-economically valuable, energy-generating resource in developing countries like India because it promotes independent energy generation, develops partner/ support industries, cultivates multiple energy generation avenues and fosters national energy security.

The small wind turbine market is currently, still virgin territory in developing countries like India. However, ground realities such as absolute inaccessibility of electricity in many rural areas, high setup and maintenance cost of large wind turbines and lack of pocket-and-environment-friendly alternative sources of energy, will soon encourage, with a little push from the government, a rush towards off-grid small wind turbine technology by rural and small community users.

Jasvipul Chawla's research once completed, will pave the way for a variety of potential places where small wind turbines can be used either as stand-alone systems or as hybrid systems in conjunction with other energy sources. It could throw open a plethora of possibilities for the scientific community by its exploration of increasing efficiency of airfoils at low wind speeds, thus contributing to aerodynamics, fluid dynamics, flow control and automatic control areas. The rural market could be the largest consumer of small wind turbine technology; especially locations that are too remote for traditional power grid extension.

Commenting on his stint with the IITB-Monash Research Academy, Jasvipul says "Research wise, it's good to collaborate with another university. You get varied technical exposure along with being able to spend time with different groups of people, which fosters international research collaboration. It's even more meaningful when India and Australia face similar social and technical challenges, which differ from those faced by the US and Europe, where contemporary research happens."

Established in 2008, IITB-Monash Research Academy is an important collaboration between Australia and India. It offers graduate research scholars the opportunity to study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay in India and Monash University in Australia, spending time in both countries over the course of their research.

Research scholar: Jasvipul S Chawla, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Small Wind Energy

Supervisors: Shashikanth Suryanarayanan, Brian Falzon, John Sheridan

Contact details: jasvipul@iitb.ac.in

For more information and details on this technology, email research@iitbmonash.org The above story was written by Ms. Sheba Sanjay based on inputs from the research student and IITB-Monash Research Academy.