Why is an Israeli device that resembles a computerized spider attracting international attention in the field of alternative energy? As Bob Dylan might put it, 'the answer is blowing in the wind.'
Pentalum Technologies' SpiDAR system, still in development at the company’s Rehovot headquarters in central Israel, is creating a buzz. That's because of its potential improvement over existing LIDAR (light detection and ranging) and other remote systems, which wind power plants rely on to monitor wind conditions.
Constantly varying wind speeds and directional patterns present a challenge for wind farms, because these changes have a huge impact on the performance of the turbines that generate energy. That’s why wind farmers invest significant capital in precision wind measurement tools to help them to site their operations and assure optimum production.
Pentalum’s proprietary technology will provide a smaller and less-expensive alternative that is also more accurate than existing methods. It utilizes sophisticated distributed wind sensors that are coordinated and controlled through a central computer. The visual effect of this configuration is what gave rise to the brand name SpiDAR.
More accurate wind measurements
'All the data from the different 'legs' of the spider' are transmitted to the central 'headquarters,' ' says Gil Shamai, Pentalum’s vice president for business development.'It’s light and very easy to deploy by a single person on the ground. You can place several in your terrain and receive measurements up to 200 meters off the ground.'
According to Shamai, the noiseless device is designed to provide more reliable and cost-effective results in three distinct applications.
The first application measures wind conditions for at least one year before a wind farm begins operation. Today, this is usually accomplished by mounting cup anemometers on meteorological masts. However, the height of modern turbines is rising, and that makes for commensurately higher costs for the masts, as well as permits, installation, and maintenance. SpiDAR promises to deliver more accurate wind measurements without those drawbacks.
The second application involves mounting SpiDAR units on turbines to measure approaching winds a fraction of a second before the gusts reach the blades. In response, the turbines can quickly readjust direction and speed to precisely meet the coming wind. Shamai estimates that this application will improve performance up to 15 percent over current systems that measure wind behind - not approaching - the blades.
Finally, the SpiDAR can play a crucial role in helping wind farm operators to predict production capabilities. 'A better understanding of the wind map in the area helps to forecast how much power the farm will produce tomorrow or next week,' Shamai explains. This data allows the farm to make accurate estimations of the amount of energy it can offer the local power grid on any given day.
Keen interest from Spain and Germany
Shamai co-founded Pentalum in 2009 with chief executive officer Sagie Tsadka and vice president of R&D Dr. Nathan Sela. Along with vice president for operations Niv Narkiss, they brought with them the relevant executive-level experience in optics, telecom, fluid mechanics, atmospheric remote sensing and software.
Thanks to $9 million raised in its first financing round from Cedar Fund, Evergreen Venture Partners, and an undisclosed American fund, the privately-held company is gearing up for pilot field tests of the SpiDAR system in early 2011 in the United States.
'Our target market is in the US and Europe, since the market in Israel, while growing, is not very large,' Shamai reveals.
Wind farms require large tracts of windy exposed areas, and are therefore most common in the states of Texas, Iowa, and California. Spain and Germany lead the market in Europe's fast-growing wind energy field. Those foreign markets are keenly interested in the product’s promise of greater accuracy and lower price, Shamai notes." (source)