The Power in Wind Energy
Article by Hans van Eeden
Wind is caused by planetary forces as old as the world itself: the sun heating the atmosphere unevenly, geographic irregularities and the rotation of the Earth. Wind flow patterns are shaped by the mountains and valleys, bodies of water and even vegetation.
‘Wind Energy’ is when the wind is harnessed to drive mechanical machinery or used to generate electricity. Usually the wind drives a blade around a shaft to convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power. The blades ‘dance’ in the wind to pump the water or produce the electricity we need.
Wind energy has never been this exciting. For me, it’s been a lifetime of discovery. I’ve learnt that you can’t bend the wind to your will—the wind bends you. You have to adapt to what it offers. You have to optimise your designs to the awesome power it holds.
This has been the privilege and passion of half my life. I’ve been allowed to mix artistry and engineering to produce machines that have withstood the rigours of nature for 30 years or more.
Today, our products challenge the best in the field, yielding top-in-class performances in most real-life applications. Over the decades I’ve manufactured, sold and installed hundreds of these machines— most that still run reliably today.
But this astonishing track record is just the harbinger of things to come.
Recently we’ve been joined by a fresh team and partners with more drive and passion than I could ever have dreamed.
Truly, this is the start of something great!
Hans van Eeden is our lead engineer in charge of develop- ment and optimisation. Hans is one of the leading experts in wind energy in South Africa, and obtained a Masters degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Stellenbosch in 1974.
He pioneered a windmill design that is still ahead of its time. Traditionally, windmills used a reciprocating or piston pump. The problem with the reciprocating pump is that it only pumps water 50% of the time. The Turbex uses a helical pump driven by a gear box to give a continuous, smooth pumping action.
This means that the Turbex will pump between 2 and 3 times more water than a reciprocating pump for the same sized installation. This represented a major breakthrough in windmill technology.
The Turbex is a leader in its field in markets as diverse as Australia, New Zealand, Span, Sweden, England, Ireland, North America, Canada, Israel, Botswana, Zambia, Sudan, and of course, South Africa.
Originally, Hans started production of the Turbex in a factory located in the indigenous community of Qwa Qwa in 1981. In 1993, the factory was moved to Harrismith.
The product line was expanded with a range of three-bladed electricity generating wind turbines in 2004 operating under the brand name Winglette. These machines have proven to be a tremendous success. Winglette is currently the largest manufacturers of small wind generators in South Africa.
Large scale wind turbines are efficient and effective, and can be installed in a variety of locations – including far out to sea – comparatively quickly. Unlike the early large turbines, modern turbines are virtually silent and the largest systems can generate in the region of 2 megawatts of power – enough to power over 2,000 homes. On smaller scale systems, turbines can be a good alternative to solar power, but more often than not achieve their best when implemented together with a solar system: a small wind turbine can generate electricity in a breeze even when the sun is not shining, whilst the solar modules can generate electricity during the daytime when the wind is not blowing.
The late Dr Walton, a British born Capetonian was well known for his interest in different aspects of conservation, including the conservation of water-pumping windmills or windpumps. He wrote a book on this subject with the late Mr André Pretorius (“Windpumps in South Africa”, published by Human and Rousseau in 1998 but currently out of print). In order to share this collected knowledge with a wider audience, he invited potentially interested organisations and places to start a windpump museum. The Fred Turner museum at Loeriesfontein was the only respondent. Since its establishment there, the museum team and interested persons all over South Africa have sponsored and collected 27 windpumps, now assembled and on display