EcoWatt designs new type of windmill for breezy gorge areas

(Hal Foster appears in the Baltimore Post-Examiner under a partnership with Tengrinews of Kazakhstan. )

Kazakhstan has the highest wind-energy potential per capita of any country in the world, according to the United Nations Development Program.

That would seem to make it a natural for wind farms.

But there are a few catches. One is that Kazakhstan’s best wind potential is in gorges where speeds can reach near-gale force. Under such conditions, a conventional windmill shuts down to prevent damage.

Another catch is the high cost of the cables needed to connect conventional windmills to each other and the electrical grid. The fact that high-tower windmills must be spaced considerable distances from each other — for safety reasons – increases those costs.

Marat Kombarov

Almaty power engineer Marat Kombarov has found a way to get around these problems. The founder of EcoWatt has designed a new kind of windmill that can operate without damage in high wind.

The compact design, which has won an international innovation award, also allows windmills to be placed close together in clusters to decrease the cost of transmission cables and to cut power-transmission loss.

Marat said his windmills will produce 25 to 30 percent more power than conventional models, since they will not have to be idled during high wind. They will also be cheaper to produce than standard windmills and will be able to be built in Kazakhstan, he said.

“Ideally, we’d like to have 100 percent Kazakh content in our windmills,” Marat said, “but we may have to import some components at first.

“Two (domestic) companies have already shown very keen interest in manufacturing our turbines,” he added. “They make plastics and plastic pipes,” expertise that will help produce windmills whose components will include sizable splashes of plastic.

Wind at the Dzhungar Gates has a distinct two-way-flow pattern. Graphic courtesy of EcoWatt.

The key differences between EcoWatt’s windmill and the high-tower version are the shape and orientation of the blades.

Marat’s shorter and wider blades are fixed along a horizontal shaft so they’re always oriented toward a gorge’s winds, which blow in only two directions – coming or going.

“We’re trying to capitalize on a niche for those wind sites where the wind blows in two alternating directions,” Marat said.

A conventional model’s longer and thinner blades are on a vertical shaft and are adjustable instead of fixed to catch wind coming from all directions. That makes them more suitable for Kazakhstan’s vast steppeland.

Marat and his nephew Sayan showed off their windmill’s design at last spring’s Astana Economic Forum, where they were fishing for investors.

In addition to bringing together top minds to discuss global economic problems, the Forum facilitates business deals.  In fact, its organizers say it generated $1.5 billion worth of deals this year, ranging from memoranda of understanding to actual contracts.

One of the ways the Forum facilitates deals is setting up an exhibition area where businesses can display projects for potential investors.

I’ve written about wind power before, and the unusual design of Marat’s windmills piqued my journalist’s curiosity. So I interviewed Marat and Sayan when the Forum ended.

EcoWatt’s design is much different from a conventional windmill’s. Graphic courtesy of EcoWatt.

Kazakshtan’s highest wind potential is in the Dzhungar Gates – or Dzhungar Corridor. The gorge runs through mountains stretching from Almaty Province in southeastern Kazakhstan to the Xinxiang -Uyghur region of western China.

It is 80 kilometers long and 15 kilometers wide, so it has a tunnel-like shape ideal for generating strong wind. In fact, experts have estimated its wind-energy potential at 350 billion kilowatt hours a year.

The average wind speed in the gorge is 9 ½ meters a second, about twice as high as the average of five meters per second across Europe, Marat said.

But the Dzungar Gates’ winds can be much higher than 9 ½ meters per second. In fact, they can reach gale force – 40 to 50 meters per second.

Conventional wind turbines must shut down at 30 to 40 meters per second to prevent blade damage. Marat’s windmills will be able to operate at any speed.

A conventional windmill is 60 to 90 meters tall, while Marat’s is 30 meters from its concrete base to its highest blade tip.

The height difference translates into an additional cost for conventional-windmill installation: reinforced-concrete foundations capable of withstanding the earthquakes that can jolt southern Kazakhstan.

The amount of blade surface area has a direct bearing on the amount of power a windmill generates, of course.

A typical blade is 40 meters long and a meter wide. Marat’s blade will be 12 to 15 meters long and five meters wide – so it will have more surface area.

EcoWatt has already produced a working windmill model with 2 ½-meter-tall supports and a blade two meters long and one meter wide.

The next step is to build a full-scale prototype whose supports are 15 meters tall and whose blade is 12 meters long and five meters wide. EcoWatt hopes to have the prototype ready by the end of the year.

The company is thinking big on its Dzunghar Gates project. Marat envisions 40,000 windmills there, each producing 1 megawatt of power each, or a total of 40,000 megawatts. That would be almost half of the electricity that Kazakhstan generates nationwide, mostly with coal-fired plants.

Experts say power-hungry China could purchase as much as 40 billion kilowatt hours of electricity from Kazakhstan if its neighbor could generate the extra capacity.

If a Dzunghar Gates project proves viable, Marat said, EcoWatt could also start wind farms in other Kazakhstan gorge areas. Two of the most promising are the 300-kilometer-long Shelek Corridor between the Chinese border and Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, and the 10-kilometer-long Yerementau Corridor between Ekibastuz and Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana.

Marat’s windmills also would work in gorges in other countries, such as the Altamonte Pass area in California.

EcoWatt’s windmill design is the kind of innovation that warms the hearts of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and other government leaders, who believe that technology is the key to Kazakhstan diversifying its economy away from oil, gas and minerals.

The technology-innovation-focused American magazine Red Herring named EcoWatt one of its top 100 global innovation leaders of 2010.

“”Despite lingering effects of the global economic situation, there are many great companies producing truly innovative and amazing technologies,” said Alex Vieux, CEO of Red Herring. “EcoWatt shows great promise.”

EcoWatt founder Marat has an impressive background in power engineering.

A specialist in electrical grids, he holds a doctorate degree from St. Petersburg Polytechnic University in Russia.

He was an associate professor at the Almaty Power Institute before becoming head of Almaty Energo’s Renewable Energy Department.

Before starting EcoWatt three years ago, he was chief engineer of Almaty Energo, headed the United Nations Development Program’s renewable-energy program in Kazakhstan and advised the provincial Governor’s Office on power matters.

To learn about the latest in windmill technology, Marat visited major windmill manufacturers and wind-power research and generation facilities in 17 countries, including the United States, Germany, Denmark and India.

His nephew Sayan earned a master’s degree in plasma physics from Kazakh National University in Almaty.  He has worked this year on professional finance and accounting certification.



7 thoughts on “EcoWatt designs new type of windmill for breezy gorge areas

  • November 2, 2012 at 8:29 PM

    I want one on my Smart car

  • September 30, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    Sorry to burst your bubble (wind-pocket?): wind farms need more than just wind – and anything else but wind is missing in Kazakhstan.

    1/ a proper internationally accepted legal framework. (absent)2/ tied in with the above, a dependable rule of law. (absent)2/ an economic framework for generation and assured long-term off-take. (absent)3/ secure mt/lt operator rights. (absent)4/ sufficient clients within the shortest possible distance taking off the power generated. (absent)5/ a transportation infrastructure. (absent)6/ a legally established, internationally accepted, accounting framework in which sustainable energy can be sustainable. (absent)7/ a domestic financial market. (absent)8/ engineering, construction, and project management capacity. (absent)
    There are libraries filled with plans and studies, but preciously few (if any-) projects which become economically sustainable in the energy field.

    Sorry, no go 🙁

    • October 1, 2012 at 9:26 PM

      How do you know that all these pre-requisites are absent? Obvisously, you dealt with these problems in KZ?

      There are plenty of market clients in Almaty and Astana regions of KZ. Law on support of Renewable energy guarantees purchase of electricity at feasable prices, as well as free transportation of power. Engineering, construction and project mngt are in place and comig. Accounting is no problem at all under IFRS or local rules.

      Transport infrustructure is either there or can be created quickly enough.

      There are more pros here than you think!

      • October 2, 2012 at 11:15 AM

        Thanks for your response and optimism! I wish you all and every success in sustainable energy projects – whether in Kazakhstan or anywhere else in the world. The world-climate needs success!
        Apologize in advance for the size of the reply, it’s not true “blog-discussion size”. Bear with me.
        To go back to your points: Saw and measured the potential in the Caspian area and the area around Astana (the gorges are too far from the customer-base), developed the plans, found foreign investors, found foreign operators, found a international reputed producer willing to produce in KZ, arranged for supra-national support – then hit a brick wall of the mentioned obstacles, starting with # -1-. No international-standard legislation and no multi-year (10-years) off-take arrangement possible (= no m/t-sustainability for an operator), and no local support. Talked, lobbied, provided details of US & European legislation and wind-farms, met with the Ministry reps. To no avail. No collaboration.It’s not that the wind-potential isn’t there, but the rule of thumb for an economically sustainable (sizable-) turn-key project (i.e. Green Field to Grid) is “$1mln per Mw”. For the money involved ALL of the mentioned obstacles have to be covered by world-class solutions for investors and operators to be willing to commit and invest.Many people feel very strong about WANTING this to come true, but all have to realize it’s as complicated as any other big energy project – whether nuclear, oil & gas, coal, or sustainable.Given that wind energy can be tapped all over the world it is not location-bound like mineral resources. For this reason the question becomes “Is your location providing the most attractive, optimal conditions for investors and operators to choose your location over another?”

        • October 2, 2012 at 4:25 PM

          I apologize for the abruptness of the message, but Mr. T. Kulibayev just announced at KazEnergy in Astana that “present forms of energy are that much cheaper in KZ that sustainable energy will either have to be competitive with these sources, or is to be put on the back-burner till the existing sources of energy have risen to the same price level.” Sun & wind will have to wait. Very sorry.

          • October 2, 2012 at 5:49 PM

            Thank you very much for you kind wishes. Indeed there are many obstacles for alternative energy in KZ at the moment. Biggest seem to be cost and affordability of final product.

            Kulibayev is right, we have to wait until cheaper and more compitative forms than traditional technologies must come to light, otherwise there’ll be no sustainability and economic returns for investors and operators, eg less than 1m$/MW.

            The officials in KZ do not provide normal power purchase agreements to operators and without such investors won’t be willing to finance such projects.
            I’m curious, what was the project cost of $/MW?Payback and tarriff were not so attractive of course than elsewhere?

          • October 3, 2012 at 5:44 AM

            @Trust Laissez-faire: The operators take the $1mln/Mw as a starting-price given, then do a check-list of the other points mentioned. If all points have OK behind them a feasibility study is done, any points which don’t are taken up separately as action-points to remedy. That was what all the activity of meetings, providing examples, etc. was about. This process alone can take a year – as long as the ultimate goal is worth it. We envisioned a Central-Asian/Eastern-Siberia/Western-China role for the producer of the wind-turbines. So as to keep funds flowing we started the official wind-study before the check-marks were “all OK”. So yes, we knew/know the wind-potential is there. We also learned that the pre-independence institute of the Anti-Monopoly Committee would have severe negative consequences for our economic model, as they would set price at the socket for our size generating. In conclusion, wind is only one aspect in the business plan.

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