Imagine giant spinning egg beaters that produce electricity, but enough for an entire nation.
That’s how Japanese inventor Atsushi Shimizu describes his new invention, an odd-shaped wind turbine designed to harness the power of tropical cyclones.
“For decades, Japan has brought in European-style wind turbines, not designed for typhoon zones, and installed them with no careful consideration — they’ve broken almost entirely,” said Shimizu.
But Shimizu’s turbines are different. A typhoon unleashes a mind-boggling amount of force, an amount of kinetic energy roughly equivalent to half the world’s electrical generating capacity. His invention — although less efficient than a traditional wind turbine — doesn’t break under that cataclysmic pounding.
According to a description of the device on CNN, omnidirectional blades on it spin on a vertical axis. This allows the device to leverage the sideways force known as the “Magnus effect” — the same sideways force observed in a curve ball or a soccer penalty kick.
According to the news site, Shimizu’s use of the Magnus effect “offers an unprecedented level of control over the turbine’s blades — by tightening the center rod, engineers can adjust the speed of the blades to ensure they don’t spin out of control in a storm.”
Japan has been blasted by six typhoons during 2016 alone. Although Shimizu’s invention was not yet operational during those previous storms, he now has a Okinawa prototype in place for the next one.
How well the turbine performs when that next storm hits remains an open question. Also unanswered is whether Shimizu’s new renewable power system, when fully operational, will send electricity directly to the grid or whether utility-scale battery storage devices will be needed.
But if the technology works, it could transform not only Japan but also potentially the Texas Gulf Coast.
For after all, a typhoon is just a hurricane by another name.
R.A. Dyer is a policy analyst for TCAP, a coalition of more than 170 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.