As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I had the opportunity to present some ideas to a group of attendees at the Fluid Power Distributors Association 2008 Annual Meeting recently. The topic was Energy and Power Generation and the format for the session was a roundtable discussion following my presentation as part of the "New Opportunity Markets" series organized by the FPDA.
As I dug into the topic for the presentation, I discovered that fluid power actually plays a role in most if not all power generation methods including hydroelectric, coal-burning facilities, nuclear power, and oil & gas exploration and production. However, the three methods of power generation that struck me as new market opportunities were wind power, solar power, and wave power.
Each of these three renewable energy sources now comprise only a small part of overall power generation in the United States. With the huge and growing demand for energy, these sources appear to be the best bets for growth markets. For now, I will focus on wind power.
A wind turbine is a rotating machine that converts the kinetic energy of wind into mechanical energy and then electricity. Because of the fluctuating nature of wind velocities, fluid power must be used to adjust the blades of the wind towers to optimize the capture of wind power. This is accomplished throught the use of hydraulic cylinders to control blade pitch.
The reason that hydraulics are such a great design choice in wind turbines is that a hydraulic system delivers the highest amount of power in the smallest amount of space. Hydraulics are lighter and smaller than electrical or mechanical actuators.
Wind probably has the most potential as an energy source and this is especially true in the United States because our great country has an abundance of flat, windy areas that are easy to access. Also, with wind applications, the power generated by the turbines is dumped directly into the power grid making it a very efficient source of power. It offers the best return on investment.
Some of the companies involved in wind turbine technology and production are Otter Tail - DMI Division, and Trinity. There is a strong demand also in Europe for wind turbines and manufacturers in Germany and Denmark have become leaders