Weather extremes all over the planet have become the norm. In the United States, wildfires throughout the American West break records year after year; heavy wind, rain and snow affect the Central and Northeastern states, and hurricanes barrage the Gulf and East Coast states with regularity.
These intense climatic disturbances perpetually compromise the power grid. In late August 2020, Hurricane Laura caused massive telecommunications outrages when it knocked out electricity and internet services, leaving hundreds of thousands without connectivity in Texas and Louisiana, affecting communications with storm victims and hampering rescue and recovery efforts.
With the need for telecommunications at an all-time high, is our infrastructure able to withstand the demands of our changing climate? In addition, should it contribute to climate change? Service providers use telecom towers to connect millions of Americans nationwide; yet, the loss of the standard electrical supply means that power can be cut off to the towers. Many service providers use diesel generators of various sizes and outputs to supply emergency-backup power. These ground-based gensets can, however, be compromised by floods, fires and wind, and limited access to fuel should conditions deny access, not to mention exacerbating the climate change problem.
Telecom towers have the opportunity to avoid service interruption when the electrical grid fails by turning to wind energy for supplemental power, or to use pure renewable power altogether. Icelandic energy solutions company IceWind offers a rugged wind turbine that can be mounted to telecommunications towers to increase reliability and avoid downtime.
IceWind offers a unique patented vertical axis turbine design that is omnidirectional and able to generate power in both low and high wind velocities. Tested in Iceland, by many measures the windiest place on earth, the compact wind turbines are built for endurance to generate power in even the most hazardous weather conditions. Their commercial line, the Njord (named for the Norse god of wind), will be available in the United States in 2021.
“We have tested our two commercial models on telecommunications towers in remote regions of our country during intense weather conditions, as well as in our capital Reykjavik to power outdoor advertising,” said IceWind CEO Saethor Ásgeirsson. “The results show that wind power from IceWind turbines can provide essential energy support for backup electricity, as well as for a sustainable, green energy solution, which all businesses should be implementing for the future.”
The standard practice of relying on diesel gensets for power outages requires hefty operation and maintenance costs, staff and fuel expenses for consistent refueling, and replacement every few years at high prices that are passed along to customers. This fossil fuel machinery is detrimental to the environment and potentially vulnerable to weather conditions. IceWind has designed its industrial line to be implemented and generate power for 30 years with negligible maintenance. Manufacturing achieves such a long lifespan by using top-quality materials, including stainless steel, carbon fiber and aircraft-grade aluminum. The turbine takes advantage of unique failure safeguard methods, such as a triple-V-type seal to keep dust, liquids, ice and other foreign particles out of the generator, keeping it at optimal efficiency.
The compact Njord micro turbines stand 86 inches tall and weigh 187 pounds for the large RW500, a 500-watt model that can generate up to 3,000 watts, and the smaller RW100, a 100-watt model at 60 inches tall and 132 pounds providing up to 600 watts. IceWind’s innovative technology uses Savonius drag-type blades from a design that dates back to the Persian Empire, and Darrieus lift-type blades commonly seen on conventional wind turbines and airplanes. This balanced combination results in a turbine that generates power in both mild and extreme wind conditions, with start-up speeds as low as 4.5 mph, and the ability to operate at wind speeds as high as 130 mph (which is Category 3 hurricane-level). The innovative, hybrid blade set ensures aerodynamic stability, preventing overspin, while also ensuring power generation over a tremendous range of wind speeds. Njord is designed to work in perfect conjunction with telecom towers, weather stations, military outposts and other applications, featuring the ability to be attached to the tower frame at any height.
“We are more reliant than ever on our telecoms — more than half of all web traffic is on mobile,” said Daryl Losaw, the U.S. president of IceWind. “The companies need to anticipate the inevitable for power outages. The issue is not exclusive to major weather events: The providers have service interruptions regularly, even from minor storms, such as when a tree knocks down a power line. New solutions for backup power are needed, and we believe wind power can be that solution. Our industrial line is both resilient and resourceful. This is not only an application for backup power, but also an essential move into sustainability.”
IceWind also has a residential vertical axis wind turbine to provide or supplement power in homes, barns, studios and off-grid cabins. The Freya, a 160-watt model that is 60 inches tall, weighs in at 143 pounds and can generate 600 watts. Like the Njord industrial line, IceWind’s Freya offers a smart, simple design, taking time-tested technologies and bringing them into the modern era.
IceWind’s mission is to provide comprehensive and groundbreaking wind energy solutions while reducing global fossil fuel emissions. They design their turbines to function off the principles of full operability, reliability, flexibility and simplicity. Their Njord turbines are sustainably designed, machined and manufactured, and fully recyclable at the end of their lifecycle. With over 200,000 telecom towers in use in the United States, many of which are in remote, hazardous and crucial locations, renewable energy for ongoing, backup and supplemental power solutions is more critical than ever in keeping our communications infrastructure running efficiently, sustainably and reliably.
Sam Gerbus is a mechanical engineer with IceWind.