In 2011, disaster struck the Tennessee Valley as one of the worst tornado outbreaks ever recorded caused widespread power outages. The source of the power loss was not the destruction of generation plants, but rather the obliteration of the vast network that transports energy across the valley. More than 300 power transmission towers – supporting around 100 transmission lines – were destroyed by the storm.
After this catastrophe, it became obvious there was a need for a new power source that could replace this long-standing infrastructure and bring power production closer to the customer. It was my wife, Shirley, who helped me see what we needed to do.
In the aftermath of the April 2011 Super Outbreak, Shirley and I were sitting on our back deck. No one in the North Alabama area had power, but some of us were lucky enough to have generators to run a few appliances in our houses, such as freezers and water heaters. While sitting there, Shirley noticed a large fan that we often use outside to keep cool during the hot summer months. It was just blowing in the breeze. She turned to me and asked a simple question: “Why can’t we power the house with that?” And the rest, they say, is history.
When designing our technology, we knew the main goal was to bring power to the people – literally, to bring energy closer to where people live. To do this, we had to rethink all of the work that had previously been done with traditional wind turbines. The technology was simply too large.
Humanity has been able to store energy captured from the wind since 1887, but it wasn’t until Albert Betz wrote a paper establishing the Betz limit – the theoretical maximum efficiency a wind turbine can achieve – that the design we know today was popularized. Since then, however, wind technology has not progressed much. Just imagine if Henry Ford had written a paper on how to build a car, and then all Ford Motor Company did over the next century was make it bigger.
That’s why, instead of looking at how turbines were already being built, we asked ourselves: how should we build a turbine? That fundamental question has allowed us to look at things differently. I quickly realized that a system of turbines should be used in place of one large one, much in the same way that solar panels are utilized. As such, we developed the MicroCube, which can be used to form larger systems known as WindWalls.
This is the clever bit: by creating Wind-Walls, we focus on surface area rather than ‘swept area’, which measures the circumference of the turbine’s blades. While this may seem like a small difference, it has a massive impact. To increase the swept area of a single turbine, for instance, you must make that turbine bigger, which increases the number of mechanical losses in the system. In order to increase the surface area, however, you simply need to add more MicroCubes to the WindWall. As a result, you get an increase in power relative to the increase in surface area, incurring minimal losses. In many cases, you even see a net gain in performance.
Our invention is so much more than just a physical property. I would say the most unique aspect of our products is the approach we have taken to get to where we are today. By using past experiences in aerospace, manufacturing, electrical and mechanical engineering, we found a way to take technologies that were widely used in other industries and combine them into a single product line that is truly one of a kind. Our goal when branding American Wind was to have a company with a clear purpose: to bring power to the people. That is why we do what we do. Our company was founded out of disaster; our mission is to ensure the pain and anguish that we all felt during those weeks in April 2011 remains a thing of the past.