Electric vehicles emit no tailpipe emissions, but that doesn’t mean they’re clean. Untold amounts of carbon dioxide are produced by mining, refining and transporting the exotic materials that go into the battery packs and motors. Beyond that, there are recyclability issues with EVs, additional tire wear is a concern because of their husky curb weights and of course, if electrics are charged from non-renewable power sources, they’re not truly eco-friendly. Addressing that last point, an inventor in Connecticut has developed an ingenious solution to make juicing up electric vehicles more convenient and far cleaner.
Two charging solutions in one
The aptly named and cleverly designed Wind and Solar Tower combines the benefits of wind turbines with those of solar panels to create one relatively compact system that puts out big power. This generator incorporates a vertical-axis turbine that spins no matter which direction the wind is blowing, as well as a self-cleaning solar panel on top. Unlike conventional turbines, this one can generate electricity with the wind blowing at just 5 mph opposed to 26 mph and it’s able to handle gusts of up to 75 mph.
According to inventor Jim Bardia, the Wind and Solar Tower can provide about 234,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per tower, per year with duty cycles of 33% for the wind turbine and 45% for the solar panel. That’s enough to net about 810,000 miles of electric vehicle range at a modest consumption rate of 3.46 miles per kWh.
“Having a Wind and Solar Tower is like having a gas station with your own oil well,” said Bardia. This system can generate electricity on its own without being connected to the broader power grid, though it can be hooked up if desired. “It gives you a lot of flexibility when you don’t have to buy the electricity,” he added. In fact, the Wind and Solar Tower is so efficient it costs as little as 4 cents to generate a kilowatt-hour of electricity, which is practically cheap enough for owners to offer free charging.
Unique features drive efficiency
Several clever features enable the Wind and Solar Tower to efficiently produce all that power. For starters, the system incorporates a special levitation hub made with permanent magnets, a design Bardia was able to patent. According to him, this element basically eliminates friction, allowing you to rotate the turbine with just a finger. The Wind and Solar Tower also integrates a sequential transmission. With straight-cut gears and eight speeds, this component allows the system to “to increase the amount of time it can make electricity.”
Bardia said wind gusts are common but steady-state breezes are much harder to come by, so having a gearbox as part of this system provides much greater flexibility. At higher wind speeds, the transmission can upshift as needed to keep the turbine speed in check while producing more electricity by spinning the generator faster. When there’s barely any breeze, the gearbox can shift to a lower ratio, allowing the turbine to rotate more easily.
The Wind and Solar Tower’s proprietary generator is a claimed 92.3% efficient. That’s miles ahead of your typical generator, which may only clock in at 50 or 60% according to Bardia. Beyond that, this product can also charge EVs at night and in windless conditions because it’s capable of storing energy. “[The] tower is large enough to house up to a megawatt of batteries,” he said.
Further bolstering efficiency, the solar panel crowing the top of this power-generating system is self-cleaning thanks to centrifugal force. Bardia explained that morning dew wets the surface and when the turbine spins any water and dirt gets flung off. Those panels are also cooled because air can easily circulate along the underside. This reduces heat soak, which prevents the efficiency from dropping off. Bardia said this “doesn’t increase the output of the solar panels, it just doesn’t allow it to decrease” when temperatures are high.
Storing all that DC power, those energy reservoirs can provide electricity at up to 380 kilowatts and 1,000 volts. There aren’t a lot of 800-volt-capable EVs available, but many are in the works, and the Wind and Solar Tower will be ready for them. In a mere 3 minutes, this system can pump 65 miles of range into a vehicle’s battery, and after 10 minutes you could net an impressive 219 miles.
It’s not required, since these towers generate their own power, but if an owner wanted to hook their unit up to the electrical grid, they could. Doing so would keep the batteries charged and ready even if it’s pitch dark and there’s zero wind. Of course, the tower can also sell power back to utility companies, an additional potential revenue stream. Another feather in its cap, the Wind and Solar Tower only needs a single-phase connection to the electrical network, not three-phase, 480-volt power because it can slowly charge the battery bank all day long. There’s no need for it to pull in massive amounts of juice at any one time.
And that’s something else that makes this product so intriguing. Since it’s able to charge EVs without being attached to the grid, these towers can be installed in remote areas that do not have access to three-phase, 480-volt electricity, something that is massively expensive to install, even in densely populated areas.
A flexible design improves versatility
Meeting a wide range of customer needs, the Wind and Solar Tower is scalable, it can be tailored to fit specific locations. These towers could be installed at existing gas stations, universities, downtown areas or, eventually, smaller versions may even be offered for home use, though, “That will come after the other machines are being built,” said Bardia.
A 50-foot-diameter unit is an option or even one that’s twice as big. Bardia explained the first production model is expected to be about 60 feet tall, roughly the height of an interstate light pole, and 44 feet in diameter, enough to provide about 1,500 square feet of solar panels on top.
Pricing and availability
This product offers a lot of great ideas, but it’s not in production yet. Bardia said they’re speaking with investment bankers and looking for joint-venture partners, so they can generate the capital needed to begin manufacturing. As for the price tag, a Wind and Solar Tower will cost around $80,000 per DC fast charger (each one puts out 180 kW). “Unfortunately, you have to buy half a dozen,” Bardia said, because the unit comes with six such outlets, which extend downward from the canopy above. That means the whole shebang is expected to go for about $480,000, though you do not have to drop a hundred grand or more to install 480-volt, three-phase power like you would with other DC fast chargers, plus, you won’t be purchasing grid electricity over the life of the machine, which is also a massive savings.
Bardia cautioned that his Wind and Solar Tower is not a magic-bullet solution to the world’s EV-charging problem, but it is a huge step in the right direction. “When you charge an EV off the grid, that EV is polluting the atmosphere,” he said, not as much as an ICE-powered car or truck, “But for the most part, it’s only 60% better than an internal-combustion engine.” Renewable power is key to making the electric vehicle revolution a green one, and the Wind and Solar Tower could play a huge role in this nascent revolution.