For years, proponents of alternative energy have claimed that the answer to global warming (and foreign-oil dependence) is literally blowing in the wind. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) maintains that wind power has the potential to generate more than double the electricity produced by conventional means today.
But wind power generated just a little over 1% of the total U.S. electricity supply in 2008, according to the AWEA, and to date it has proven less reliable and more expensive than fossil-fuel power. Connecting remote wind farms to the larger electricity grid requires costly infrastructure, and efforts to position turbines closer to towns and cities have met stiff resistance from communities loath to see the giant blades spinning in their backyards or ruining their water views.
The technology is, however, getting a boost from state and, perhaps soon, federal renewable-energy standards, and the 2009 stimulus bill provided tax credits and loan guarantees for wind projects. Meanwhile, the industry is working to increase the reliability and efficiency of wind power. One company with a promising new idea is Catch the Wind, a Manassas, Virginia-based start-up that is developing a product called the Vindicator, which improves the ability of a turbine to position itself more efficiently. CFO David Samuels explains why his company isn’t just whistling in the wind.
What does the Vindicator do?
Today’s wind turbines have a two-cup rotating anemometer and a wind vane on top of the nacelle [the turbine's housing]. Those two instruments measure the wind after it has passed through the rotor blades, so they are measuring disturbed wind. Our product measures the wind proactively. It is an all-fiber-optic, laser wind sensor. It measures wind speed and direction in front of the turbines. That enables a turbine to be pointed into the wind so that it maximizes the efficiency of the turbine and minimizes the wear and tear on the components of the turbine.
How far out does the sensor measure the wind?
We’ve got a program for today’s wind farms for approximately 300 meters. We can measure out much farther, but we believe that 300 meters provides a long-enough period of time to ensure that the control mechanisms and the algorithms are able to move the turbine into the wind.
Would you call this technology disruptive?
It’s a game-changing technology. We are introducing something new to the wind-power-generation industry.
How do you get financing for a new technology in this market?
The company was founded in March 2008. It was a spin-off of another company, called Optical Air Data Systems. We capitalized it with a $15 million private placement. We did a reverse merger with a company called Bayview Public Ventures, which enabled us to secure our current public listing on the TSX Venture Exchange [in Canada]. The funding enabled us to set up a pilot manufacturing facility in our headquarters building in northern Virginia and start manufacturing our prototype units, which are the same units we have been testing with strategic partners.