Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Oh, patents ! Solar and wind tree groves

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

Could solar panels installed on rooftops, and soaring wind turbines relegated to wind farms, already be obsolete? 

Quite possibly, according to the inventors of various solar, wind and/or solar-wind combination trees! Solar, wind and/or solar-wind combination trees are now marketed as an artistically pleasing, multifunctional and more efficient way of producing green (i.e; non-fossil fuel) energy, especially in urban areas, where space is limited.

Although wind turbines have undoubtedly existed for hundreds of years, considering the precedence of Dutch windmills, they also must operate hundreds of feet in the air to be efficient, using gigantic turbine blades, several feet wide. Thus, wind turbines are typically found in wind farms, in large open-air fields, or even offshore, far away from residential or business areas.  Similarly, the energy produced by solar panels is also still dependent on size and number of panels, with the additional, admittedly subjective disadvantage of being perceived as unsightly. Thus, solar panels are usually installed on rooftops where they ultimately compete for space with roof gardens!

In response to some of these pressing problems of the prior art, and the ever increasing need for green, clean and renewable energy sources in urban centers, the following are 
few solar, wind and/or solar-wind combination trees.

US20100289269 titled Solar wind tree, and US20140021723 titled Solar wind tree with optional wind turbine are US patent applications disclosing solar and wind trees. The solar collectors in these inventions are shaped and positioned in such a manner as to further direct wind streams to the wind turbines. In turn, the wind turbines rotate around the shaft (or tree trunk) as they collect wind energy. These solar and solar-wind combination trees appear somewhat evocative of Xmas trees, with the upper arms (or branches) of the tree designed shorter than the lower ones to prevent all shading effects. However, the scope of the invention extends well beyond the biomimetic aesthetics of pine trees, claiming the notion of « camouflage elements causing the support structure to resemble vegetation“. Thus, the tree appearance, in fact, serves to cover all the wiring and equipment above ground level, and in turn might vary, depending on the surroundings, while still remaining well within the scope of the invention. 

The abstract for US20140021723 is included below, as well as an image of the tree extracted from the patent:
An apparatus for generating electricity. The apparatus comprises a plurality of solar energy collectors for generating electricity from solar energy; a plurality of wind turbines for generating electricity from wind energy; a support structure having arms extending radially from a vertical shaft, the arms positioned at different vertical distances along the vertical shaft and the arms having decreasing lengths in a direction toward a top of the apparatus; solar energy collectors affixed to terminal ends of the arms and disposed at different vertical distances along the vertical shaft, the solar energy collectors shaped and oriented to direct wind streams striking the solar energy collectors toward the wind turbines; and each one of the plurality of wind turbines rotatably supported by the vertical shaft to rotate about the vertical shaft and disposed at different vertical distances along the vertical shaft.
WO2015198348 titled Solar Tree discloses the Indian solar and wind tree. in addition to solar panels, a wind turbine is described mounted on top of the tree. This invention thus also discloses a solar-wind combination tree. The novel aspect of this solar-wind tree lies in the mobility of the solar panels. A mechanism changes the angle of the solar panels' positions in order to maximize the amount of solar energy captured. This solar tree is also configured in such a manner that the upper solar panels do not obscure the lower panels of the tree.

The abstract for WO2015198348  is included below in between a figure drawing extracted from the patent, and a marketed embodiment of the solar tree showing the mobile panels.  
An apparatus designed for generating electrical power. This apparatus consists of solar panels having high quality of solar cells, with high efficiency for generating electricity from solar energy; a small cylindrical wind turbine at top for generating electricity from wind energy; a transparent pole to support solar panels and wind turbine; a charging dock placed on the supporting base for public to use electricity to charge their electronic gadgets and a square base at bottom to support the entire machinery. The solar panels are circular in shape with reducing radius from bottom to top in form of an inverted cone having ability to rotate themselves according to the sunlight falling on them; and placed at different vertical distances along the supporting pole. This apparatus generates higher amount of electricity for same unit of solar panels per area.
The French, multiple award-winning, Arbre à vent® (wind tree)  is disclosed in a family of 7 patents: EP2825770, FR2988144, WO2013136142, US2015108762, KR20150015438, JP2015511675 and CN104471240, each with the same title Aerogenerator comprising a trunk and a plurality of branches extending from this trunk, or translations thereof. This invention was previously discussed extensively in this blog (see references below). The Arbre à vent® invention comprises no solar collectors, only wind turbines, each individually enclosed in the patented “leaves” of the wind tree, and each positioned in a patented way so as to capture even the slightest stream of wind. Beyond the generation of clean and renewable energy, the design of the tree is also motivated by an explicit concern for bird habitats which suffer many casualties resulting from contact with the exposed blades of existing wind turbines. L’Arbre à vent® is also termed biomimetic, as it is designed to resemble nature, and in particular, it is styled as a chestnut or oak tree!

  The Abstract for US2015108762 is included, in between a drawing of the patented bladeless wind turbine leaf, and its marketed embodiment.
The invention relates to an aerogenerator comprising a trunk and a plurality of branches extending from this trunk, characterized in that it comprises: a plurality of turbines distributed over the various branches, each turbine having a vertical axis of rotation; and an electric generator mounted inside each turbine on the axis of rotation of said turbine. 


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