Microgrid innovation at Medicine Hat College

Bluenergy Solarwind perfects double-helix urban wind turbine for Medicine Hat College’s microgrid

Four men on a roof working on an equipment installation.

Bluenergy Solarwind creates first-of-its kind microgrid for Medicine Hat College. — Photo courtesy Medicine Hat College

By spring of next year, Medicine Hat College will begin constructing a microgrid unlike any other in Canada beside their Cultural Centre building on campus.

“It’s a project happening on campus, but it’s really a community project,” said Tracy Stroud, business development officer at Medicine Hat College.

The college is eager to participate in Alberta’s race for renewables.

“Being the sunniest city and having a good wind resource, we are well situated,” Stroud said. 

Renewable companies are already flocking to the southern part of the province, so the college is taking this chance to provide training opportunities to its students.

The college is in the process of creating more renewable courses around the microgrid. “It will provide that opportunity to learn through hands-on experience,” Stroud said. At the same time, the microgrid will be displayed in a way that is accessible to the public.

“People will be able to walk around and see the technology,” she said. “We are quite excited and have had good support from our community members.”

Bluenergy Solarwind’s one-of-a-kind turbine design

The microgrid will be comprised of a combination of wind turbines, solar photovoltaic (PV) electric and solar thermal heating, digitally controlled and monitored by WiseEnergy™ technology by Zedi Inc. as well as two electric vehicle charging stations also accessible for public use. However, the most novel piece of technology within the microgrid is the vertical, double-helix turbines designed and built by Bluenergy Solarwind Canada Inc. (BSWC).

Bluenergy Solarwind Inc. was originally founded in New Mexico. The company designs, develops and sells on-site custom-configured energy systems. In the case of Medicine Hat College’s microgrid, BSWC has perfected its double-helix Solarwind™ turbine with plans to eventually install solar cells on the wind blades, allowing the one-of-a-kind turbine design to meet next-level renewable demands by generating both solar and wind power in one turbine. BSWC’s approach to renewables is small-scale, direct-to-user and applicable in urban settings.

Compared to traditional wind farms, “We are both using wind, but that’s where the similarity stops,” said Joel Goldblatt, president and CEO of BSWC. “We are scaling down to a much smaller size, but also at a more affordable price, while also offsetting the carbon levy by generating ongoing carbon credits. They are meant to be used directly on site at the location that uses the power as it’s made.”

The turbines BSWC is currently building are designed to be mounted within an eight-foot diameter circle on the ground, and are 24 feet high, so they can be permitted within a two-storey height restriction in urban and suburban settings. While small scale, they are not yet focused on residential markets, but rather commercial and industrial customers.

“The college is a perfect example. That’s the size we are talking about,” Goldblatt said. The turbines will be mounted near the solar panels and solar thermal collectors for hot water and space heating. “In all of these cases, the goal is to displace the burning of natural gas, propane or coal-fired electricity.”

Building the best turbines for the job

BSWC has built seven prototypes of its Solarwind™ in the past.

“This has come from a lot of research and product development to create something that is affordable and accessible that people can buy and use where they live and work,” Goldblatt said.

They’ve experimented with design, using two and three blades, and types of materials. They’ve settled on a triple-helix vertical structure built from carbon fibre—both lightweight and strong. These turbines are designed and built to survive an Alberta winter.

They start spinning at four miles per hour, producing useable power at 10 miles per hour, and can withstand winds up to 80 miles per hour before needing to engage a safety brake.

“Large-scale turbines have to shut off at 45 miles per hour because the blades are moving too fast. The propeller tries to literally take off to fly,” Goldblatt said.

The design also eliminates the risk for birds. The propellers of typical turbines create a vortex, pulling wind and anything nearby through the blade, killing birds in the process. The triple-helix Solarwind™ base is on the ground pointing to the sky. There are no sharp blades, and they turn slowly on a vertical axis, and are silent. “The appearance is a vertical kinetic sculpture spinning in the wind,” said Goldblatt. 

The most apparent advantage of these non-traditional turbines is the control they grant users—control to generate electricity and heat without relying on the grid, where the end-user is forced to pay for the fuel and its associated taxes.

“You own the equipment,” Goldblatt said. “And we are designing our equipment to last for at least 20 years. You are using solar and wind energy yourself, and not putting pressure on regional utility transmission and distribution lines.”

The future of the triple-helix

When the solar component is eventually added, they are not using traditional solar panels. Instead, flexible solar cells coated with fluoropolymer (a clear film) allow for light capture at all angles. In the case of the Medicine Hat microgrid, the solar-panelled wind turbines will not be installed immediately. Medicine Hat College and BSWC are currently finalizing permitting and project blueprints to begin spring construction as soon as the snow melts.

Although BSWC designed its technology with urban microgrids in mind, these turbines do have applications in mining.

“This is scalable,” Goldblatt said. “It’s just a very different scale.” The company has made proposals to off-grid mine sites. “Our single wind turbine makes three kilowatts of power in a 15- to 18-mile-per-hour wind. That’s not much power, but the idea is to cluster these.”

Mining is a long-term market goal for BSWC. “The future is not far away,” Goldblatt said. 

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