Russia has developed a device to convert wind energy into heat rather than electricity, as is the case with traditional wind power engineering. This could solve the problem of supplying heat to remote populated areas and save tens of billions for the budget.
Wind power engineering is still developing along a familiar trajectory: wind farms generate electricity. But wind energy can also be converted into thermal energy. Russia has potential in this direction. A company in Krasnoyarsk, OKB (Experimental Design Office) Micron (a part of Kanex Group, a manufacturer of industrial mining equipment), intends to create a wind thermal power generation complex (WTPG), which includes a thermal energy storage system in addition to the wind station itself. The necessary patents have already been obtained, and the trademark ‘Terus’ was recently registered for the project. The company claims that no one in the world has made a similar unit, and plans to produce the first prototype next year.
In a vortex of currents
‘We have counted at least eight ways of obtaining heat from wind energy. The simplest way is the primitive friction of steel on steel, where the rotation of the blades moves a steel disc which turns against another disc, which generates heat,’ says the CEO of Kanex, Alexander Kantsurov, ‘and even using this method, our calculations suggest that operation could continue for thirteen years without having to replace the disc. It won't wear out. But we decided on the magnetic field; a rotor spins around the stator, there are magnets on the rotor, a magnetic field is created and eddy currents, or Foucault currents, heat up the stator. A liquid is passed through a pipe in the stator, which absorbs the heat as it comes through.’
According to the company's specialists, the conversion rate of mechanical energy in this device will reach 95%. The rest will go to an additional low-capacity generator, and the electricity generated here will be used to power the whole complex – lighting, pumps and so on.
Dmitry Salov, CEO of Micron, began developing a device to convert wind energy into heat twenty years ago: ‘Wind power engineering was sort of a hobby of mine, and as an amateur engineer, I was fascinated by the idea of a ‘green clean world’. But considering the fact that the economics of wind turbines are somewhat complex, development was shelved for a very long time, and it was only three years ago that we at Micron became seriously involved in making it a reality.’
It immediately became clear that the economics of this wind thermal power generation complex were not encouraging for implementation in areas covered by a single energy system; it would be more in-demand in isolated systems. Terus plan to start implementing their technology in isolated, remote towns, where heating is generated autonomously by heating plants using imported coal or fuel oil. This is both environmentally unfriendly and expensive due to the costs of transportation included in the cost of fuel, meaning higher fuel prices for consumers.
‘In these isolated areas, we have no competition – no one is trying to use wind energy there,’ says Dmitry Salov. ‘On the other hand, it would be foolish and inefficient for us to create competition for large monopolies inside one country, given that there are remote regions which use firewood or oil for heating.’
According to Dmitry Salov, the authorities of Krasnoyarsk Krai are interested in this new way of generating heat because, in particular, it could allow them to reduce budget expenditure on compensating the population for the cost gigacalories. He claims that Russia spends 20 billion rubles a year subsidizing electricity and heat. Krasnoyarsk Krai alone spends five billion a year on compensation for the cost of heat.
The company emphasizes that the current cost of heat energy produced in heating plants in remote regions is from 500 to 40,000 rubles per gigacalorie (this depends primarily on the cost of the fuel factor). The Terus complex should allow energy to be generated at 300 to 500 rubles per gigacalorie.
Wind thermal generator vs. wind electric generator
The WTPG complex consists of five blades, a heat generator, a mast and a thermal energy storage system. According to Dmitry Salov, capital expenditures on constructing the wind thermal generators are two to three times lower than building wind turbines. This is achieved through several factors. Installing a wind thermal generating unit is much cheaper than a regular wind turbine because to install it you do not need a powerful high-rise crane, which cannot travel on all of Russia’s roads, so savings can be made on equipment. After all, the unit can be assembled anywhere from parts which can be transported by a regular truck (even the blades). ‘This is the main difference from classic wind turbines,’ emphasizes Mr. Salov.
What’s more, the mass of the WTPG structure is less than that of a regular wind turbine: a 2 MW WTPG weighs 110 tons, while a wind turbine with the same capacity weighs 210 tons. The wind thermal power generation complex also does not require connection to a power line. Another advantage is that the WTPG’s lifespan is 60 years, as the developers promise, against 20–25 years for a standard wind turbine.
One of the problems with wind energy is the very high cost of storing the generated energy, and that without a storage system, wind turbines are very inefficient, since their operation is dependent on the strength of the wind over the course of a given time period. Since the primary product of the Terus device is heat, which is cheaper and easier to store than electricity, there are no problems with accumulation. At the same time, the heat generation complex is equipped with a supply and backup unit, which also includes small-volume electricity storage units. This unit allows the device to continue to function when there is no wind.
According to Terus, the devices will be able to work effectively in 80% of Russia's regions. ‘But, if a region has very little wind, then the breakeven point disappears beyond the horizon,’ notes Dmitry Salov. However, at least in those regions which the company has managed to inspect, the breakeven point for the WTPG is after 8–12 years.
Terus have decided to make their complexes from aluminum as a light and fairly cheap material which can work in low temperatures – up to minus 70 degrees. Other options – carbon fiber and thermal fabric – were rejected because they are heavier or more expensive.
As for the localization of production of WTPG devices, if its level in wind power engineering remains quite low – no more than 75% so far, Terus says that their complexes will be produced in Russia and using 95% (all the main components, including the blades) Russian materials. Beyond microchips, variable speed drives for controlling the electric motors, radio transmitters and other electronics, the magnet situation is as yet unclear. ‘Technically, development and production of the hardware will be carried out exclusively by OKB Micron. We have been producing this type of large hardware for a long time, only not for wind power engineering. So, we’re not really a startup, we’re not starting from scratch,’ says Mr. Salov.
Terus plans to release its first prototype of the complex in 2021, but a series of tests will take place before this. Production will commence with a small unit with a capacity of 12 kilowatts, while the most powerful is planned to be four megawatts. ‘For now, we don’t need more because remote facilities have limitations and don’t require a lot of power,’ explains Dmitry Salov. ‘Our main difficulties are linked to the lack of experience of producing these devices,’ he continues, ‘so, design mistakes are inevitable. We understand that we have a long way to go because we have never worked with wind power engineering before.’ Terus will be able to mass produce these devices in five years, while reaching the planned capacity will take twelve years. Production is planned to be located in Krasnoyarsk Krai.
In addition to isolated remote towns, Mr. Salov considers geological exploitation companies to be a target audience for Terus: ‘There are geological exploitation parks which are only accessible for two or three months of the year, and even then only by helicopter, ATV or by river, before it freezes. But people live and work there.’ Furthermore, there is demand for these devices among mining enterprises. Today, when developing any mine – for gold or platinum – imported fuel is used for heating.
In the future, the number of consumers for WTPG devices could be much higher, Salov hopes. Working in isolated territories is just a way for Terus to enter the market: ‘Then we will produce complexes for every region, and we’ll start making electricity, too, in ten or twelve years.’
Alexey Presnov, the Head of the Analytic Energy Agency, notes that the problem of providing remote areas with inexpensive fuel is relevant in and of itself. ‘Even in the European part of the country, we have heated areas where there is no gas, so they use expensive fuel oil or coal, which also ends up being expensive because of the cost of transportation. One example is Murmansk Oblast, without even mentioning the isolated regions of Yakutia and the Far East, especially its northern areas. They have various solutions there based on renewable energy sources – solar power stations, wind-diesel plants – but, as a rule, in terms of the electricity which is then used to heat the heat-transfer liquid in boilers, or, in reality, in electric boiler houses, their efficiency, by the way, is up to 90 percent, with around 10–15 percent being lost when converting electrical energy into heat.’ Mr. Presnov notes that it is unclear how efficient the Terus technology is along the whole chain, that is from rotation to heat for the customer. ‘It is unclear how much demand there is for these direct heat generators without an electrical component,’ he adds.
But Alexey Presnov believes that the potential market for WTPG devices in the field of heat supply is quite large: ‘Around one gigawatt in Murmansk Oblast alone, if we replace fuel oil in small cities and towns. Even more in Siberia and the Far East.’
According to Mikhail Lifshitz, Chairman of the Board of Directors of ROTEC JSC, the use of this technology and the production of WTPG units based on it is more difficult than it seems at first glance: for an eddy current generator, you need to correctly select the ferromagnets and develop and implement a control system. ‘A wind-powered station generating heat is much more efficient than an electric one,’ he believes, ‘however, you must also take into consideration the cost of storing and delivering this heat to the consumers. The cost of maintaining heat pipelines is higher than for electric cables.’ As Mr. Lifshitz says, the heat production method proposed by Terus is ‘original and nice’. In his opinion, it is also important to understand that traditional boilers have historically been located in high-density development areas in order to minimize the distance between them and their consumers, and that installing a wind turbine there would be impossible, meaning that the heat pipeline would need to be extended.
Thermal energy generated by a wind thermal generator could be much cheaper than energy from boilers running on imported fossil fuels. Furthermore, the use of wind energy is more environmentally friendly.
Author: Vera Kolerova