By Peter Jones
A radical new design of electrical generator that solves an engineering quandary and promises to be cheaper, lighter and more reliable than anything currently available has been unveiled by scientists at the University of Edinburgh.
The work by Markus Mueller and Alasdair McDonald at the university’s Institute of Energy Systems has solved one of the fundamental engineering problems faced by builders of offshore wind turbines.
A new company, NGenTec, was formed ten days ago to exploit the new design. It is chaired by Derek Shepherd, a former managing director of Aggreko International, a Glasgow-based supplier of mainly diesel-fuelled generators.
Mr Shepherd said of NGenTec: “Our technology has the potential to revolutionise the renewable energy industry by making wind power cheaper and more reliable and greatly increasing the efficiency of wind turbines for electricity companies.”
The blades of conventional turbines are connected to a generator via a gearbox. In harsh conditions at sea, this is prone to breakdown, leading to costly repairs which themselves are at the mercy of the weather.
The alternative is to dispense with the gearbox and connect the blades directly to a generator via an axle.
The institute’s design — through a novel arrangement of the magnets inside the generator and the copper coils that produce electricity as they pass the magnets — has succeeded in cutting the weight of direct-drive generators by up to half and made assembly much easier. A prototype installed on a wind turbine has proved that the design works. ...