Critics of wind power all like to point out the same problem with turbine technology: “What happens when the wind doesn’t blow”? Apple, usually a maker of products that consume energy, recently filed for a patent that may answer that question once and for all. The tech giant’s latest patent details a wind turbine that generates electricity from heat energy rather than rotational energy created by the rotation of the unit’s blades. According to the patent, this could allow wind energy to be stored in a “low-heat capacity fluid” which could then be tapped on an as-needed basis, i.e. whenever the wind dies down.
Traditional wind turbines use the kinetic energy of moving wind to rotate large blades. Using a drive shaft, this rotational energy is then used to power mechanical machinery or, as we’ve seen in recent years, generate electricity that can then be stored in a battery or funneled into the grid. Apple’s patent filing proposes a system that converts rotational energy from the turbine into heat, which is then stored in a “low-heat-capacity” fluid, according to Apple Insider. Next, the system selectively transfers the heat from the low-heat-capacity fluid to a working fluid. Finally, the system uses the transferred heat in the working fluid to generate electricity.
Details in the patent suggest this type of “on-demand” electric generation system could reduce costs associated with natural fluctuations in wind supply. It’s also possible that this system could act as a replacement for current conventional energy storage methods such as batteries.