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eWindSolutions aims to sell power-generating devices to farmers.



PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JAIME VALDEZ - David Schaefer and Brennan Gantner watch their eWind Solutions business partner, Sean Mish, try to fly a prototype electric kite in the parking area of where their business is located in Beaverton.The big turbine with propellers is the poster child of wind energy. But there is another way.

Kites.

No, really. That thrashing, figure-of-eight motion of a kite pulled by the wind has a use. That motion is a more efficient conversion of wind power than the big props we’re used to seeing in the Columbia River Gorge.

At eWind Solutions in Beaverton, they’re developing a modestly priced wind power system aimed at U.S. farmers.

Farmers are ideal because they have space, they use an average four times as much electricity as a normal household, and they often need power just slightly off the grid.

David Schaefer, eWind Solutions CEO and founder, was inspired by a 1981 paper called Crosswind Kite Power, by Miles Loyd of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Loyd’s paper said that a kite, blade or wing moves four times faster in a crosswind than in straight downwind.

“That’s why in the Columbia River Gorge you see the windsurfers going back and forth across the river, not up and down,” Schaefer says. “The lift these sails can generate from a crosswind is huge.”

In a warehouse above O’Neill Transfer and Storage, six full-time staff, using their own money and grants, have been designing kites with both fabric and rigid wings.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JAIME VALDEZ - David Schaefer, founder & CEO of eWind Solutions, shows an AutoCAD drawing of an electric kite that his team is perfecting.The final aircraft will probably look like a glider or a biplane with a six-foot wing span. On a recent December morning, a prototype on the workbench was made of 3D-printed plastic, Styrofoam and Sky Shark P90 carbon tubes, which are light, rigid tubes used in stunt kites.

A tether connects the kite to a large drum-shaped turbine in a metal box on the ground. As the kite thrashes in the wind, the tether is paid out and the turbine turns, generating electricity. When the kite reaches the end of its 800-foot tether, a computer controlling the flaps tells it to descend. When the tether is all the way in, the cycle starts again.

“It looks like a kite on a long rope going in and out like a yoyo,” Schaefer says.

Energy can either be stored in large batteries, which are currently expensive, or returned to the grid, similar to the net metering used for home solar power.

Schaefer and his colleagues estimate their prototype will be ready in 18 months, followed by another 18 months of testing and getting certified for energy credits. Schaefer says they’ll sell for around $50,000 per unit, with a shelf life of 10 years for the ground generation unit, and four years for the plane.

Traditional wind turbines are expensive. They have to be built very tall, and only work in places with steady winds of around 15 to 20 mph, which is only 15 percent of the world’s land mass.

Kites are cheaper, require way less installation (a metal box on a concrete pad) and their motion is more efficient than spinning turbine blades.

Though we might not feel it at ground level, there is often a steady 15- to 30-mile-an-hour wind just a few hundred feet up. EWind Solutions aims to fly kites under the 500-foot height limit set by the Federal Aviation Authority, which does not want aircraft hitting each other or slicing though cables. The system wouldn’t work in suburbia though; you need a few dozen acres.

Sean Mish, eWind’s director of systems integration, says it’s hard to compare the system to the price of solar but “it costs about the same per kilowatt hour.”

An eWind kite can be operable up to about 45 per cent of the time, compared to 12 per cent of the time for solar or small wind, and 35 per cent for large turbines.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JAIME VALDEZ - Sean Mish, director of systems integration at eWind Solutions, shows electric kite demos that his team has been working on from existing consumer kites.The kites have to come down when it’s stormy, or when the wind is feeble, but when it’s up and running it produces a lot of electricity.

“We could build a kite that worked in winds of 2 or 3 mph, which could be out 100%. But it might be more efficient to build a kite that could be up 90% of the time but costs half as much,” Mish says. “It’s about finding that sweet spot. We’re still trying to figure that out.”

These kites are designed to fly day and night without help from humans.

Schaefer says most of the work they’re doing, and where they own intellectual property, is in figuring out how to control the plane automatically. GPS, compass and accelerometers communicate by radio with the base, to control the tether, and the flaps on the wings.

For farmers operating the system, “there will just be a big red button and a big green button,” Schaefer says. “They can drop the generator off the back of a pickup truck and plug in an extension cord.”

The only other U.S. firms working on similar technology are Windlift in North Carolina, and Makani, which Google just bought.

Makani’s aircraft is a 600-pound beast that sails in the air and has several propellers that generate electricity and send it down the insulated tether.

“We want to be a smaller and lighter device, and we’re the only company trying to fly below the FAA’s height limit of 500 feet,” says eWind’s David Schaefer.

Winemakers are known for their love of drones for inspecting crops. The owner of one local winery, known for its green energy, is intrigued with eWind Solutions. Partly because grape farmers pay thousands of dollars a week hiring falconers and air cannons to scare off birds and vermin who might eat ripe fruit. And partly because of branding.

“He wants to launch it off the roof of the winery, not the ground, and have their logo on it really big,” says Katie Schaefer, David's wife.

Farmers, on the other hand, just want cheap electricity. “We tell them, the wind over their land is another cash crop,” says David Schaefer.

Find out more:

EWind Solutions

(503) 531 – 9815

ewindsolutions.com

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