History has taught us an important lesson. Harnessing the wind is no easy task.
That's because wind, like the weather, changes by the minute. Just think of the variety. There are gale-force winds and dead calms to deal with. Bursts, gusts, and breezes. Not to mention constantly shifting wind directions. For those who have made it their occupation to harness the wind and produce wind-powered electricity, the constant change is one of their biggest challenges.
Finding ways to better manage those wild swings in wind—to produce smooth, stable electricity—is a key objective for researchers at the University of New Brunswick's Energy Research Laboratory.
And leading the lab's research is Dr. Liuchen Chang, a former electric railway engineer and an expert in power electronics. Dr. Chang used to make China's electric railways run faster, but for the past 7 years he has been researching the wind, which has earned him a coveted Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council research chair.
With infrastructure funding from the CFI, Atlantic companies, and other sources, Dr. Chang and his team have been able to occupy a powerhouse of a lab—unlike any other in Canada—at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Although the lab lies nestled in a river valley where the air is, at most times, quite calm, the researchers are still making rapid progress in wind energy conversion. That's due to strategic alliances with other institutions, and access to a well-placed test facility—on Prince Edward Island.
Dr. Chang has forged partnerships with three other maritime universities, all working together as the Atlantic Sustainable Power Initiative. Each university has something to contribute to the overall research. At Memorial University of Newfoundland, they're developing energy conversion systems using wind turbines and fuel cells. Dalhousie University's team in Halifax is assessing the Environmental and Economic impacts of wind power. And just north of UNB, a team at the Université de Moncton is striving to improve the aerodynamic properties of wind turbines. However, no matter where the power comes from, every system needs a way to regulate power output, and that where Dr. Chang's lab comes in.
Dr. Chang's UNB lab is developing novel "black boxes" or Wind Power Inverters that can take a wildly fluctuating electrical power and transform it into a steady, controlled current, stable enough for any household appliance to use. These new electronic circuit structures allow for the maximum power yield and energy output of whatever generating system they're attached to. And they can be scaled down to meet the energy demands of a house, factory, or even a small town.
Developing ways to test these black boxes in real-world conditions means hooking them up to wind turbines driven by the wind. For that researchers have to make a trek to the Atlantic Wind Test Site on the blustery cliffs of Prince Edward Island. Located in North Cape, the facility boasts a field of constantly spinning turbines and is considered one of Canada's best-equipped, consistently windy test centers.
Currently, Dr. Chang and his research associate, Tobie Boutot, are studying how to capture the energy produced by a spinning wind turbine and using it to set huge flywheels in motion. By converting electrical energy into "kinetic energy" or energy in motion, potential electricity can be stored for times when the wind dies down. The team envisions that underground flywheels placed at the center of vast fields of turbines will one day be used to offer a continuous stream of power to remote communities that now rely on diesel-powered generators.
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The Energy Research Lab at UNB is one of Canada's largest centers of research on the development of wind power, small hydro, and solar (photo-voltaic) technologies. What do each of these environmentally clean systems have in common? They need to have their fluctuating electrical power stabilized before the power can be distributed to the end user. The design of stable Wind Power Inverters is key to the efficiency and success of any naturally sourced electrical generating system.
As a result of this energy research, the self-sufficient home of the future could have solar panels on the roof, a wind turbine in the backyard, and a mini hydro generator producing power from a nearby stream. And tying them all together to power the house? One of Dr. Chang's Wind Power Inverters.
The University of New Brunswick's Energy Research Lab is working in partnership with three other maritime universities to develop initiatives for Atlantic Sustainable Power Research. The group includes Memorial University of Newfoundland, Dalhousie University, and the Université de Moncton.
Under this initiative, the group is developing distributed generating stations using wind turbines, small hydro units, and micro-turbines.
Another key partner is the Atlantic Wind Test Site in PEI. The facility has been a key participant in the Canadian wind energy program since it was established in 1980. The role of the AWTS has evolved to meet the changing needs of the national wind energy program.