Wind Power for travellers

Wind TurbineFor many years there were a number of issues with most wind turbine systems that prevented them from being seriously considered by the average traveller.

 

 

 

The turbines we have seen did nothing to make me want one … they were:

  • Large and heavy
  • They required gale forced winds to have them produce any useful power
  • They were very expensive
  • Worst of all they were horrendously noisy. The howl from these generators was enough to drive anybody to the other end of the camp.

Recently we have seen a big change in all of this … Jaycar Electronics are importing and selling a range of wind turbines that may just give solar panels a fright.

The most attractive of the range is a 300 watt unit that is available in both 12 and 24volt models.
The designers of this turbine were clearly aware of the downsides of previous offerings. This turbine is quiet … really quiet. Standing directly beneath the blades in a reasonable wind is not unpleasant. There is a slight wooshing sound and that is all you hear. It is much smaller and weights 18kg. It can quickly be disassembled for easy storage.

In our testing we found that the turbine begins producing power just above a light breeze. Once the wind speed got to about 10 knots (that’s about strong enough to stop fishermen from considering launching the boat) the turbine is producing around 50 watts.
The documentation supplied with the unit rates the alternator using meters per second – while I understand that this is the normal measurement used for wind turbines, it generally does not mean much to most people. What does a wind speed of 12 meters per second feel like?
A couple of minutes in Excel produced the following conversion chart…

m/s km/h knots watts amps 24v amps 12v
2 7.2 3.9      
4 14.4 7.8 30 1.3 2.5
6 21.6 11.7 50 2.1 4.2
8 28.8 15.6 100 4.2 8.3
10 36.0 19.4 200 8.3 16.7
12 43.2 23.3 340 14.2 28.3
14 50.4 27.2 480 20.0 40.0
16 57.6 31.1 470 19.6 39.2
18 64.8 35.0 200 8.3 16.7
20 72.0 38.9 180 7.5 15.0

 

As you can see from the chart, the turbine is capable of producing nearly 500 watts.

What’s in the box?

The box that arrived from Jaycar contained the following (poorly packaged in shredded cardboard):

  • The alternator (including the slip rings)
  • Three blades (about 750mm long)
  • The tail (in three parts)
  • A plastic bag of bolts, nuts and washers

The instructions that can be downloaded from the Jaycar site, state that the turbine requires a tower with a two and an eighth inch inside diameter at the top to allow the mounting shaft to slip inside. The instructions that arrived with the unit call for a quite different 42mm ID pipe. I am glad we did not arrange the mounting hardware until the turbine arrived!
The instructions do not suggest a mounting height, but the website does state that the recommended minimum height is 6 meters. Our generator is sitting atop of a 5.5m tower. There are a couple of other Jaycar turbines here – exposed to the same wind but mounted just 3 meters above the ground. It is very obvious that the higher mounting makes an enormous difference to the performance.

Assembling the unit was very simple and took just a few minutes. Sadly the included nuts, bolts and washers are all steel – we will replace these with stainless steel in the near future.

Regulation
The unit is self regulating and has pre-set regulation points. Once the upper voltage is reached the turbine applies an internal electromagnetic brake to slow the blades and reduce the output. For our 24 volt unit these set points are supposed to be:
Off at 28.2 volts
On at 25.2 volts
My testing suggests a quite different set of figures. The alternator applies the brake at about 29.2 volts and releases it at about 28 volts. This results in a rapid cycling between brake on and brake off. I have not yet spoken to anyone at Jaycar about this deviation from the published specifications.

I am waiting on some metering equipment to arrive. Once I have had a chance to measure production over time, including averages etc, I will update this posting with the figures. For now I can tell you that we have not had to run the generator since the wind turbine was erected – this includes making bread every second day.

Conclusion
We feel that the wind turbine performs very well – it is nice to wake up with our batteries nearly charged each morning. Other than the issues around having to carry and store two 3 meter lengths of steel pipe and the time it takes to setup and secure the turbine, the Jaycar 300 watt wind turbine makes a great additional power source for any serious traveller.

 

Update – 03-08-2009

To over come some of the issues with the inbuilt regulator, I have built a control box that provides 3 functions:

  • The first is just a simple 50a DC circuit breaker from Jaycar (50a for 24volts systems) – this protects the batteries and the turbine in the case of a fault.
  • The second is a 40amp changeover relay (20a for 24v systems) that when activated by a small switch takes the positive from the turbine and switches it off the battery and shorts it to the negative from the turbine. This applies the electromechanical break to the turbine.  The 12v turbine is capable of producing 40 amps at peak – so the relay must be rated to carry this full charge current. This allows the brake to be applied when erecting the turbine and stops the high voltage back EMF from spiking the vehicle electrical system when you dissassemble the turbine.
  • The third part was added later when I found that the turbines built in regulator was not performing as per spec. I found that the turbine has a bad tendency to overcharge the batteries for long periods of time. I built a regulator using a PicAxe processor – I have programmed this to mimic the behaviour of my solar regulator …

    It allows the turbine to charge the battery bank until the voltage has been at 29.2 volts for a total of 30 minutes (the timer stops whenever the voltage falls below 29.0). It then stops the charge and applies the break to the turbine (by simply switching on the relay mentioned above) and keeps the break on until the voltage drops below 25.6volts. This prevents the overcharging that occurs on windy days when the turbine is just using its own in-built regulator. (Half all voltages for 12 volts systems)

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28 Responses to “Wind Power for travellers”

  1. Aussie Bob Says:

    Hey guys 🙂

    I got the exact same turbine for my camping trailer – http://enviergy.com/?p=256

    I agree, it’s a great little unit. I hunted around for small turbines around the 300w mark, and this seemed the best value. You can go for the Air Breeze or AirX-400, but they’re more $$ and the above turbine seemed the best value by far.

    It takes me around 5 minutes to set the turbine up and hook up the wires to the battery bank. I had the tower made with a large base plate, so it sits on the ground and ties to the back of the trailer. I keep the turbine bolted to the tower during transit, and it just sits on the top of my ute.

    BTW, how are you measuring the power output from the turbine? I have mine setup so it goes straight onto the battery bank, as the turbine has the regulator built in, so I’m not seeing any actual digital output. The regulator (about the size of a match box) is glued and screwed to the bottom of the motor, as I took my turbine apart to see how it all went together. 🙂

  2. Hobo Says:

    I have installed a current shunt in the line from the battery bank to the turbine. This connects to a second shunt adapter on our plazmatronics PL40. The net result is that I can see the instantaneous charge current from the turbine AND/OR from the solar panels. I can also see how many amp hours each charging source has contributed since midnight each day. This configuration is known as the duel shunt system where there is an external load shunt AND an external charge shunt.
    Probably over-kill … but I just like to know what is going on. 🙂

    I phoned to talk with Jaycar about the regulation issues and was told to “put it in writing”. I will compose and email in the next few days.

  3. Aussie Bob Says:

    One thing about this turbine though, it does seem a little erratic, in as much as it seems to spin around more in higher winds. I have a larger blade turbine that is more steady and doesn’t spin around as much in good winds. I’ve heard on the net that someone was extending the tail on the above turbine and that steadied it up and stopped it from spinning around so much. I think the smaller diameter of the blades, when compared to a larger diameter blade turbine, is the reason it’s a tad erratic. When I have both turbines running, the larger blade turbine acts differently to the smaller blade turbine. Just was curious how you found the above turbine for steadiness.

  4. Hobo Says:

    I agree Aussie Bob. In some winds the turbine just seems to get going, then slowley turns 90 degrees. It then swings back and the process starts all over again. The motorhome parked next to us also has one of these turbines – his is far more erratic than ours. His is mounted on his bus (and I feel that this interupts the air flow) AND the pole is not viritical – I am not sure which of these makes it more inclined to wander off the wind. I’d be very interested to hear about the tail extention results.

    Hobo

  5. Hobo Says:

    John to answer you questions…

    How is the turbine mounted?
    The wind turbine site on top of a 5.5m steel pole. This is in fact two 3m galvanised pipes that fit inside one another. Extra height makes a big difference to the performance of the turbine.

    Is it a hassle to put up?
    Well … yes. It takes about 45 minutes to erect. We need to drive large pegs into the ground for the stay wires. We have tended only to erect the turbine when we plan to stay at a location for a few days or more.

    Also does one need a lot of knowledge to build the add ons you have done?
    Anyone with a basic knowledge of electrics/electronics and able to use a soldering iron could build the control/brake box.
    I have built two versions – the first and most simple is just a manual brake system consisting of a changeover relay and a switch.
    The second is more complex and adds a microprocessor to control the turbine making decisions based on the average battery voltage over time.
    This is based on the popular picaxe series of processors.

    I hope this answers your questions.

  6. John Says:

    Great site! Are there any problems connecting both solar and wind to the batteries at the same time through their own controllers, or do they have to be one at a time?
    Thanks

  7. Hobo Says:

    Hi John, Thanks for your comment.

    There is no problem having both solar and a wind turbine connected at the same time (I have that right now). Each has their own regulator. If you want one regulator (in our case the PL40) to display correct information about the state of the batteries, you need to have at least one (better to have two) shunts and shunt adapters (the PL series regulators support two shunts to provide absolute charge and load data).

    Each regulator uses battery voltage as the main trigger point to decide if the batteries are full (this is valid only at the top end of charge when battery voltage rises rapidly once the batteries are near full charge). It is not a big problem if the wind regulator has a slightly different set point to the solar regulator.

    Hope this helps.

  8. John Says:

    Thanks for that, I’ll need to go back to your main article to work out what all the shunting is about.

    Another question though – the wind turbine guide available fom jaycar (here in NZ) recommends a 400Ah battery bank or the battery voltage may rise too quickly and then not charge properly. I was thinking of using two 12v 125Ah batteries, but looks like I may have splash out more if i want to use this system.

    Just to be confusing, I found another manual (http://www.wsetech.com/pdfs/manual-350-eng-4jd.pdf) which proposes 2x150Ah batteries, and also has a comment that increasing battery ‘capability … would make the batteries on half full state and short the life’.

  9. Hobo Says:

    John, I have recently discovered an issue with the regulation of the Jaycar wind turbine. I am currently collecting data and will post more information as soon as I can. Right now I recommend avoiding this turbine – I suspect it has the ability to cause major damage to both the batteries and any devices attached to the system.

  10. John Says:

    Thanks for the warning, I’ll hold off until I hear more!

  11. Hobo Says:

    I have submitted my issues to Jaycar. Here is the email (sent 30/9/09)…

    Hi, I purchased two 24v 300w wind turbines a couple of months ago. One of these has had an issue with the regulator (it developed a short) and has been replaced.

    My current issue relates to BOTH turbines and I suspect is a design issue rather than a manufacturing fault.

    The manual states …

    QUOTE

    For the factory regulation set point, if the voltage for a 12V system reads 14.1V or

    higher (24V system reads 28.2V or higher; 36V system reads 42.3V or higher; 48V system reads

    56.4V or higher), then the turbine will sense the battery is charged and stop producing power.

    And

    When the battery voltage matches the regulation set point, the turbine will “shut off”. Normal

    charging will resume when the battery voltage drops slightly below the fully charged level. For 12V

    turbines the turbine will resume charging at 12.6V(25.2V for 24V turbines, 37.8V for 36V turbine

    and 50.4V for 48V turbine).

    UNQUOTE

    To me this suggests that the turbine will produce current until the battery voltage reaches 28.2v. At this point it will shut off and start again when the battery voltage falls below 25.2v.

    After extensive testing I can assure you that the turbine does NOTHING even slightly close to this.

    I have a Xantrix battery monitor and a Xantrix inverter on my system. I was lead to look into the turbine behaviour when I found that it was causing a high voltage alarm on the inverter (this sounds at 31.5v). Looking at the history on the battery monitor I found no fewer than 56 recorded high voltage alarms over the course of 1 week. The battery monitor is set to record an alarm above 31 volts.

    In stark contrast to the specifications in the manual, the turbine stops very briefly when the voltage rises above about 29.2v – but for some reason in very strong winds the regulator reacts too slowly to stop the battery voltage rising above 31.5v. When the voltage drops below about 28.5v the turbine returns to full operation.

    Even short durations of voltages above 30 volts have the potential to cause damage to equipment attached to the system. For this reason I have stopped using the turbine.

    I assume that I am not the only customer having this issue (given that it is happening with both of the turbines I purchased – which are connected to different battery banks – both larger than the 200Ah recommended))

    Please contact me as soon as possible regarding this issue.

    END OF EMAIL

    I do not yet have any responce from Jaycar

  12. Detox John Says:

    Wind power is good although it looks a bit bulkier compared to solar cells. i am trying to build a small wind generator at home too.

  13. John Says:

    Still no reply from Jaycar? Doesn’t look good.

  14. John Says:

    You solution then is basically to run the output from the turbines regulator through a second regulator. Not knowing what a PicAxe is, I guess I could use any standard regulator?

  15. Hobo Says:

    Jaycar has been less than helpful. They have (in the last few days) supplied replacment regulators for the two turbines. I am told that these are completely redesigned regulators. I will report once I have fitted and tested the new regulators.

  16. Hobo Says:

    Jaycar Update

    I have finally managed to get the attention of someone from Jaycar Techstore that seems to care. They have promised to have a resolution for me by the end of this week. I will be very interested to see what they come up with!
    I have stopped using the turbine for fear of the damage it could do to other parts of our electrical system.

    Hobo

  17. Hobo Says:

    OK – I finally have a resolution on this issue. Jaycar has conceded that there is an issue with our turbine (well with the internal regulation of the turbine). I am pleased to report that they have decided to do the right thing and I am very happy with the agreement that was reached between us.

    Let me reiterate – the issue exists with the internal regulator of both turbines that we purchased, it may or may not be an issue with all turbines of this model. The issue appears to be accentuated when the turbine is used on a system that includes other charging sources (solar in our case). If you have one of these units and you are concerned, I suggest you take the unit to a suitably skilled and equipped technician to have the turbine tested.

    Hobo

  18. Don Robinson Says:

    Hello Gavin

    Any more update on the Jaycar Wind Generator?

    They are on special at the moment for $600 NZ which is reasonable if the regulator problem is solved.
    I am interested in the 12v model and I have enough clues to redesign / remake the regulator (I suspect – subject to a physical inspection) but of course I don’t particularly want to.

    Not sure if the issue is with the 12v model or only with the 24v one.

    Think your site is great.

    Thanks

    Don Robinson

  19. Hobo Says:

    After lots of discussions with the tech guys at Jaycar we settled on agreeing that there was an issue. I told them about my add-on regulator and they offered to provide a full refund on both turbines AND let me keep the units (and asked if I would do some longer term testing with any future units). So I am happy – however unless they have addressed the issues with the regulator I would not be happy to recommend them. My add-on regulator is fairly basic – it simply watches the battery voltage and energizes a changeover relay that disconnects the turbine and shorts the positive and negative from the turbine (which is how the electric (back EMF) brake is applied). I used a picaxe for the control.

    Please let us know how it goes.

    Gavin

  20. Don Robinson Says:

    Thanks for the info Gavin.

    How complex is the regulator that comes with the WGen?

    I would feel quite happy constructing a similar unit to yours if needs be. Another relatively simple possibility is to replace it with the Oatley Electronics Wind Generator Regulator which is fully documented and adjustable.

    Will keep you in the loop if I get one.

    Don Robinson

  21. Hobo Says:

    The built in reg includes the 3 phase rectifier and is all enclosed an black resin. It shorts out the windings when the battery is disconnected and when the load is shorted. The regulator is not adjustable and does NOT perform according to the specs. It also produces a lot of heat and needs to be well cooled (ie well bolted to a metal part of the turbine).

    Cheers

  22. Andrew Hooker Says:

    Hi Gavin, Love the website! Great gobs of excellent information for the reader. Joanne and I are just in the process of buying our first motorhome and are going to use it for me to escape the Corporate Life (weekends only at first). In saying that we want to set it up with solar panels, but we also want to run a wind generator. I’d appreciate your thoughts on the 6 (blue) and 8 (green) directional turbines shown at http://www.motorwavegroup.com/new/motorwind/houses.html . I’m figuring they might be a better option than the airplane type when stuck on a pole at the back the the motorhome, even for weekend stops.
    Any information you might be able to provide would be appreciated.
    Regards
    Andrew

  23. Hobo Says:

    Hi Andrew, Thanks for the comments.
    This is a very interesting concept.

    My experience with wind turbines in a motorhome environment was not a very positive one. Here is some things to think about…

    1. Any turbine attached to the vehicle MUST be removed or folded away for travel. Not doing so will have a negative impact on your fuel economy.
    2. Any turbine attached to the motorhome will create vibration and thus noise.
    3. Generally speaking, any place that creates enough wind to make a turbine work is the kind of place you do not want to be. Contrast this with solar.
    4. The falling cost of solar makes wind turbines look very expensive.
    5. Solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years – how long will the bearings last in a turbine?

    My opinion is that unless you have some special reason to use wind (eg no room on the roof for solar – or plans to follow the wind), solar is a much better option.

    I hope this helps. If you do decide to get one of these turbines, I’d be very keen to hear how you got on with it.

  24. john Says:

    hi gav
    ok were on the road full time
    looking at wind power
    thers a few o the market
    im running 800w solar with a pl40 @ 24v
    just need to supliment on cloudy days

    1) one option
    ac wind turbine ,,,with external controller

    2) dc turbine with biult in controller

    which is the best to put in line with the pl 40??

    im only looking at say a 600w turbine ( 24v )

    i could go 2 more pannels on roof ,,,buttttt i want a second means off charge

    cheers john philip

  25. Hobo Says:

    Hi John,

    Although we do have a wind turbine, I would not in all honesty recommend it to a fellow traveller. It just have too many things against it…
    1. It needs a LOT of wind to make it produce anything useful – check that specs and you will see that it needs an unpleasantly strong wind to even start – rated production is normally at close to a gale.
    2. It needs VERY clean air – any disturbance from trees or buildings vastly decrees the production (often to nothing) – high on a hill top overlooking the sea is ideal.
    3. It needs to be on a VERY high tower (minimum 6m) to get any chance of getting clean air – these are heavy and hard work to put up (and the novelty very quickly wears off).
    4. It must not be mounted to the vehicle (the vibration will drive you nuts).

    I recommend you do yourself a big favour and invest the same money in more solar – it is so cheap now that it makes wind power impractical for mobile use.
    We have our turbine sitting on the top of a windy hill here at Mt Perry and on the average day it contributes less than 5% to our total production.

    To answer your question regarding internally or externally rectified and regulated – it makes little difference. The PL40 can act as a load dumping turbine regulator – but NOT at the same times as regulating solar (one or the other). My experience with internally regulated turbines has not been good with the few that I have worked with not performing well (or even close to the stated specs).

    I hope this is of some help.

  26. john Says:

    ok thanks gav
    might see you around som e time
    bus is done and we full time now on the road

    made the break end of f november
    cheers john

  27. Gareth Says:

    Hi Hobo,
    Brand new to the site. thanks for all the info. I do wonder though, could a small wind turbine not be attached to the bus/motor home that could run while you are driving? plenty of wind in that situation.

    Gareth.

  28. Hobo Says:

    Hi Gareth,
    While this sounds like a great idea, the reality is that the added wind resistance will adversely effect the fuel economy of the vehicle (even more so than simply fitting a large alternator to the engine). The other issue with turbines attached to motorhome is the vibration and noise they generate when they are working. Not ideal sleeping conditions on a windy night.
    Interestingly I used to think our turbine was almost silent. This turned out to be due to us using it exclusively when parked near the sea. The sound of waves is very close to the sound the turbine makes – and thus we never noticed it. Having erected away from the shore the real noise factor is quite high.
    Solar panels are a much better proposition.

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