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Turbina: Vertical axis small wind turbines perfect to reduce opex at remote cell sites


Turbina’s innvoative wind power solution produces power at wind speeds of just 1.5 m/s and functions independent of wind direction

Turbina have enabled the wind power proposition to take a massive leap forward with their small vertical axis wind turbines that function independent of wind direction and generate power at wind speeds as low as 1.5 m/s. Turbina recently launched a dedicated Telecoms Business Unit and secured landmark contracts with Telekom Slovenia and with T-Mobile’s OpCo in Croatia. They are also in negotiations with few others MNOs. To learn more about Turbina’s proposition, TowerXchange spoke their new Director of the Telecom Business Unit, Martin Frey.

TowerXchange: Please introduce our readers to Turbina - where do you fit in the telecoms infrastructure supply chain?

Martin Frey, Director Sales Telecommunications, Turbina:

Turbina is a young wind solution developer and manufacturer, offering a unique vertical axis turbine which is now being installed at remote cell sites.

Turbina’s CEO Aleksandar Vucak and his uncle had a dream of the most efficient design of wind turbines. They founded Turbina in 2006, in which year they won a World Bank award for Most Innovative Technology, later followed by the Energy Global Award and the Energy Innovation Award in 2010.

Turbina’s previous focus had been on solutions for the mining, agriculture and real estate industries, but we broadened our strategic focus to telecommunications, launched a new dedicated division this year, and we’re already in discussions with leading infrastructure suppliers, as well as reaching out to MNOs and towercos, in recognition of the trend to transfer ownership of passive infrastructure to towercos.

Turbina’s solutions are perfect for off-grid cell sites, often deployed in combination with backup diesel gensets and/or solar. We all understand that the logistical complexity and cost of diesel means that MNOs and towercos are increasingly looking to harness natural resources as a solution to reduce opex.

TowerXchange: I appreciate that Turbina has only just started your telecoms division, but the first question our readers always have is “how proven is the solution in telcoms applications?” Please share some of your early successes.

Martin Frey, Director Sales Telecommunications, Turbina:

Telekom Slovenia gave Turbina our first engagement in telecoms in 2010. Our vertical axis turbines have been installed at cell sites on two remote islands in the Mediterranean, in one case enabling the complete removal of the backup DG, in the other case significantly reducing DG runtime.

In 2012 one of the T-Mobile OpCos knocked on our door. If your readers are familiar with T-Mobile’s tough evaluation process, they will appreciate the accolade it represents that Turbina’s solutions had no problems being approved.

We’re exploring several opportunities in Africa, and are in process of a deployment in Indonesia, but we’re not at liberty to name our client yet. We are also seeking reliable partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America, with a view to forming joint ventures to manufacture and support locally and price aggressively.

TowerXchange: One of the questions most asked by CTOs and power equipment solution providers is whether any small wind solutions can be mounted on existing masts?

Martin Frey, Director Sales Telecommunications, Turbina:

On one cell site in Slovenia, we were able to mount our 4kW turbine on the 30m tower that had already been setup with antenna, without needing to strengthen the structure.

However, such cases are unusual as our 1kW turbines weigh 230kg, and our 4kW units weigh 1.1 tonnes, so you need a robust tower with plenty of capacity to add one of our turbines. It’s not impossible of course because our unique vertical axis turbines generate no vibration. But in many cases we do need to have an additional tower build.

TowerXchange: Why use vertical rather than horizontal axis wind turbines?

Martin Frey, Director Sales Telecommunications, Turbina:

We can generate power at lower wind speeds – in our case 1.5 m/s is sufficient for power production. And we overcome the common wind power problem of noise – our units generate a noise level below 34dB, which is roughly the equivalent of a songbird!

I’ve already mentioned that our turbines don’t generate any vibrations, which can be a big issue with horizontal turbines. Our turbines also work independent of wind direction, with no alignment of rotor blades, as needed by horizontal axis design. Vertical axis wind turbines are also safer – there are no exposed rotating parts, and birds perceive it as a solid object and fly around it.

We can generate power at lower wind speeds – in our case 1.5 m/s is sufficient for power production. And we overcome the common wind power problem of noise

We’ve tested our vertical axis turbines in up to 200kph storms, and with reinforcement they can handle 280kph.

TowerXchange: What is the typical wind resource requirement for your turbines?

Martin Frey, Director Sales Telecommunications, Turbina:

The wind resource requirement depends on many factors, particularly the load on the site (primarily influenced by the number and age of antennas and other active equipment, air conditioning load) plus any losses in energy storage conversion.

Assuming a 1.5-4.5kW site,  even with a wind resource of 3-4 m/s we would generate on average energy in a range of 1,000-2,000kWh annually. At ideal sites with 6-9 m/s of wind resource, we can generate over 14,000 kWh annual energy output. Our hybrid solution consisting of wind and solar is able to cover 100% of the load.

Some of our competitors claim they can produce energy at 3-4 m/s, but horizontal axis turbines have to adjust rota angles and rotation, needing battery power to move, so really they only become viable with at least 5 m/s of wind resource.

TowerXchange: What’s the ‘sweet spot’ in terms of the energy load on a site for Turbina’s solution to be a viable option?

Martin Frey, Director Sales Telecommunications, Turbina:

We’ve built turbines for cell sites with 1.2 to 4kW loads, but we can handle higher demand. At loads above 5kW we can probably cover 20-50% of the power needed, so again much depends on the age and number of antennas and wind conditions on the site.

TowerXchange: Does the falling cost of solar adversely affect demand for wind power?

Martin Frey, Director Sales Telecommunications, Turbina:

The first step into renewable energy for MNOs and towercos might be to use solar to reduce diesel expenses – given the low price of PV this is logical, but I think the logical next step is to include wind to reduce diesel consumption completely.

When people ask about the benefits of wind compared to solar power, I respond “does the sun shine at night?” And as the climate changes, sun conditions are changing.

The combination of solar and wind is perfect to replace diesel generators in most cases.

TowerXchange: How does the TCO and lifetime of wind power compare to the more commonly used dual diesel genset solution for off-grid cell sites?

Martin Frey, Director Sales Telecommunications, Turbina:

In most regions of the globe solar+wind is going to be competitive with a dual DG model for off grid cell sites.

We can generate power at lower wind speeds – in our case 1.5 m/s is sufficient for power production. And we overcome the common wind power problem of noise. Using one of our 4kW wind turbines in a region with an average wind speed of  4 m/s, supplemented by 7kW of PV, compared to 12kW of DG will breakeven in around two years. And our turbines have a lifetime of twenty-plus years.

TowerXchange: Finally, please sum up how you would differentiate Turbina from other small wind companies.

Martin Frey, Director Sales Telecommunications, Turbina:

Our technology represents a massive leap forward and has been recognised globally by several awards.

What is unique about Turbina’s small wind solution is that it generates power at wind speeds as low as 1.5 m/s, and it’s wind direction independent.

We have the typical quality characteristics you would expect of a German manufacturer, and we work with the best partners to deliver a product you can rely on. Similarly we have a very selective hiring process, so our team consists of dedicated personnel with substantial experience.

Unfortunately the small wind segment has suffered a number of companies filing for Chapter Eleven bankruptcy, but Turbina has a strong financial background, including a recent investment from eCapital AG, which guarantees ongoing innovative development.