Powering the Future: The Synergy Between Wind Turbines and Lithium Batteries

Wind energy — and specifically small wind energy — is steadily making its way into the global market and claiming increasingly larger territories that once belonged exclusively to traditional energy sources. 

With this trend getting stronger, it is only natural that businesses are growing increasingly interested in tighter integration between power generation and local power storage solutions for greater flexibility, consumption efficiency, and, of course, higher revenues. 

Let’s look at how the emerging interplay between wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries unlocks multiple opportunities for businesses, energy providers, and end consumers alike.

Where we are now?

The transition to sustainable energy sources is driven not only by environmental concerns and initiatives backed by most governments and industrial associations but also by the increasing risk of volatility in the global market of fossil fuels caused by geopolitical instability and disruption of traditional supply chains, among other things.

Source: EMBER Global Electricity Review 2023

Current and future share of renewable energy sources in global electricity generation

Green energy is the balancing factor that has the potential to drastically reduce the carbon footprint on a global scale, compensate for price fluctuations, and address power concerns in regions with no access to national power grids. 

Wind energy, for example, is one of the most affordable and convenient sources of green energy, which, combined with modern power storage solutions, can be the key to providing businesses and communities in remote areas with the much-needed resources and ability to grow and diversify their operations.

Before we dive deeper into the benefits offered by wind turbines, let us quickly go over the basic principles of their operation. 

The role of wind turbines in the clean energy world

Wind turbines harness wind power to generate electrical energy through a simple yet effective mechanical process. Once the wind exceeds a certain speed, known as the cut-in speed, the blades of the turbine capture kinetic energy, and rotate around a central hub. This rotating motion engages the main shaft, which spins an electric generator to create electricity. 

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

Design of a typical HAWT (Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine) wind turbine

Most models have a gearbox between the blade shaft and the generator to increase rotational speeds and, thus, the turbine’s electricity output. The wind turbine continues to produce power until the wind speed becomes too strong, at which point it shuts down to prevent damage. This is known as the cut-out speed.

Green to the bone

Modern wind power generation equipment is built with sustainability and eco-friendliness in mind and boasts an increased lifespan, allowing wind turbines to operate for up to 20+ years without major component replacements and with a minimal amount of maintenance required. Many models are created using recycled materials and are fully recycled after being decommissioned.

Wind turbines can be installed without major disruptions to the environment and operate without producing any pollutants. The only byproduct of their operation is the noise, which turbine manufacturers have learned to effectively minimize, making it possible to install power generation equipment close to residential areas or even on rooftops.

Finally, small wind farms are easily scalable, as their installation does not typically involve any complicated site preparation or construction work. 

Addressing intermittency

Wind energy can deliver immense value for regions where access to the national power grid is scarce or intermittent. A wind farm installed in an area with consistent wind patterns can efficiently power local communities when the connection to the national grid is down or unstable, or act as a single source of power, especially when combined with an array of batteries. 

The latter are becoming a vital element of today’s wind farms by turning them into a highly dependable power source that continues its operation even when winds drop beyond the cut-in speed or exceed the safe limit. 

Let’s take a closer look at the Li-Ion technology and the benefits it brings to the table. 

Lithium batteries: a leading energy storage technology

Lithium-ion battery technology has revolutionized the landscape of energy storage since its inception in the 1970s. On the most basic level, lithium-ion batteries function on the movement of lithium ions from the negative electrode to the positive electrode during discharge, and back when charging. 

The lithium compound used in the battery’s electrode has outstanding electrochemical potential, resulting in a high energy density. The lightweight characteristic of lithium also contributes to the high energy-to-weight ratio of these batteries. Furthermore, lithium-ion batteries have a low self-discharge rate, which makes them ideal for various applications such as powering consumer electronics, electric vehicles (EVs), and renewable energy devices.

Benefits of Li-Ion technology for wind farms and hybrid energy parks

Various characteristics of lithium-ion battery technology make it a preferred choice for the renewable energy sector in general and wind energy in particular: 

  • The long life cycle of these batteries enables them to retain their capacity even after multiple charge-discharge cycles. 
  • Modern Li-Ion batteries feature outstanding energy density
  • They are capable of operating with minimal maintenance, do not require scheduled cycling to prolong their lifespan and don’t exhibit the “memory effect” seen in some other rechargeable batteries. 
  • Li-Ion batteries can deliver a high current very quickly, making them suitable for high-power applications. 

However, this efficiency comes at a price. Li-Ion batteries also have potential drawbacks such as the complexity of the charging process (an AC/DC inverter is required), upfront cost, vulnerability to overheating, the need for protection circuits to maintain safety, and, finally, the effects of their production on the environment, which leads us to the next topic.  

Environmental concerns

Although Li-Ion batteries are widely used in EVs and renewable energy products, certain aspects of their manufacturing and recycling remain among the unresolved issues that the brightest minds all around the world are still working on. 

Building Li-Ion batteries is not as efficient and eco-friendly as the industry would like it to be. Proper recycling requires substantial efforts, which calls for advancements in material studies and the invention of new battery designs with an increased lifespan, higher density, and a substantially lower carbon footprint. 

Despite these challenges, the advantages far outweigh the negatives, making lithium-ion battery technology a key player in the drive toward a post-carbon economy.

Where wind energy meets modern battery technologies

As noted above, the combination of modern wind turbines and high-capacity Li-Ion batteries presents ample opportunities to anyone interested in building efficient on-grid and off-grid wind farms with immediately available excess capacity for low-wind conditions or power consumption spikes.

A typical turbine + battery combo requires just a few key additional components: an AC to DC inverter and an intelligent charge controller responsible for feeding the right voltage to the battery to avoid damage and premature degradation. 

Once fully operational, this set helps address several typical challenges:

  • Intermittency: the wind is never constant, but a battery compensates for that until the turbine is back up
  • Continuous power: having an uninterrupted power supply for critical infrastructure and services is vital in a lot of scenarios
  • Grid integration: smart control systems let you dynamically resort to the power grid or channel your excess power back to it for extra revenue

The shared future of Li-Ion and wind power technologies

Today, the ability to not just generate power from renewable sources, such as wind, but to store it for later use is going up on the list of consumers’ priorities. Be it for extra confidence in power availability or for a chance to make a profit by selling power to those consumers outside of the microgrid, the market is ready for modern, balanced, all-in-one solutions. The synergistic partnership of Li-Ion batteries and small wind turbines is one of them.

The advancements in both technologies are following a similar trajectory and focus on a few key aspects:

  • Cost reduction and wider availability 
  • Safety improvements across the board
  • Performance/efficiency optimization
  • Ease of scaling and customization through advanced connectivity and modular design
  • Ease of decommissioning and recycling

One of the hottest trends is the use of AI and machine learning for intelligent automation and control in operational devices and during the R&D stage for testing hypotheses and identifying the best combinations of materials and chemical compounds to be used in the final manufacturing process. 

Bottom line 

Today’s wind energy industry abounds in innovative solutions, such as new turbine designs suggested by ML-assisted modeling, low-friction components, as well as durable and lightweight materials, to name just a few things. 

Coupling these power-generating devices with equally efficient power storage systems seems to be not just logical, but vital for the creation of autonomous microgrids and hybrid energy parks relying on renewable energy sources. This dynamic duo opens a way to a previously unthinkable level of power management flexibility and delivers on the promise of the wide availability of clean energy in developing and remote areas. 

This prospect calls for more active cooperation between the manufacturers of small wind turbines, solar panels, and battery manufacturers and extending their product portfolios for better alignment in terms of connectivity, generation output, and required battery capacity.  

As multiple options become available on both ends, we will be seeing more and more bundled products offering end-to-end green energy solutions. This synergy will be capable of effectively competing with traditional energy sources and conventional big turbines that may be excessive both in terms of power output and deployment costs.

The author of the article is Simo Eiert, CEO of Freen OÜ, a rapidly growing European manufacturer of small wind turbines with record power generation efficiency and patented hardware design.

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