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Researchers create flags that harvest energy from solar and wind

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Though the benefits of both wind and solar power are great, intermittent generation is a drawback for each. Cloudy day = no solar power. Still day = no wind power. How do you choose the optimal power source for your climate conditions?

Scientists from the University of Manchester are developing the answer. A team of researchers have developed energy harvesting flags that generate power from both solar and wind at the same time. 

The latest development from researchers at the University of Manchester is a device that can harness energy from both solar and wind power at the same time
(Image via University of Manchester)

“Wind and solar energies typically have intermittencies that tend to compensate each other,” explained Dr. Andrea Cioncolini, the study’s co-author

“The sun does not usually shine during stormy conditions, whereas calm days with little wind are usually associated with shiny sun. This makes wind and solar energies particularly well suited for simultaneous harvesting, with a view at compensating their intermittency.”

The device has an inverted flag set-up - meaning that the leading edge is free to move but the trailing edge is connected to a small generator. Piezoelectric strips along the body of the flag generate power from movement as it flaps in the wind. 

Flexible photovoltaic cells - currently the best method of harnessing solar energy - make up the rest of the flag. 

The device is an inverted flag made from piezoelectric strips and flexible photovoltaic cells to generate energy from both the wind and the Sun
(Image via University of Manchester)

“Under the action of the wind, the flags we built bend from side to side in a repetitive fashion, also known as Limit-Cycle Oscillations. This makes them perfectly suited for uniform power generation from the deformation of piezoelectric materials.” explained the study’s lead author, Jorge Silva-Leon.

“Simultaneously, the solar panels bring a double benefit: they act as a destabilizing mass which triggers the onset of flapping motions at lower wind speeds, and of course are able to generate electricity from the ambient light.”

Currently the flags only generate a very small amount of power. From wind speeds varying from 0m/s to 25m/s and 1.8kLux constant light exposure, the device had a total power output of 3-4 milli-Watts. 

However, the team believe that the technology can be implemented in higher-output devices.

“Our piezo/solar inverted flags were capable of generating sufficient power for a range of low power sensors and electronics that operate in the micro-Watt to milli-Watt power range within a number of potential practical applications in avionics, land and sea remote locations, and smart cities. We hope to develop the concept further in order to support more power-demanding applications such as an eco-energy generating charging-station for mobile devices.” said Dr Mostafa Nabawy.

The team also developed unique research techniques such as fast video-imaging and object tracking with advanced data analysis to prove that the flags worked. 

“We are currently making use of a novel computational framework for modelling and simulation developed at The University of Manchester, building on a long tradition of Computational Fluid Dynamics in the group.” said Dr Alistair Revell.

“The use of computers to model fluid-structure interactions is increasingly referred to as virtual engineering, and plays a key part in device development by reducing the number of models which need to be physically manufactured and tested.”

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Researchers create flags that harvest energy from solar and wind - Time to read 3 min
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