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Harnessing wind to generate clean energy

Numerous erratic weather events are happening around the globe and Malaysia is not exempted from these abnormal weather patterns, as the exceptionally heavy storms in the Northern region and the waterspout seen off Gurney Drive in Penang just a couple of weeks ago demonstrate.

Now as we approach the hot season, historically a period of stifling heat and soaring temperatures, it is apt to remind ourselves that we ordinary folks can start addressing the impact of global climate change as individuals.

Mexico’s foreign minister and president of this year’s UN Conference on Climate Change Patricia Espinosa said it most succinctly in a recent news report prior to the conference which ends in Mexico today.

She said: “Every single year without a (climate change) agreement sets us further apart from our goal to stabilise global temperature, while financial costs increase accordingly. The current scenario is not sustainable and endangers our present and future generations.”

Which brings us to the topic of wind as a natural means of cooling and ventilation. Before the advent of air-conditioners, almost all buildings and homes were built with natural ventilation in mind.

One starting point was the natural North-South orientation, which in the practice of Feng Shui is considered beneficial since that is the natural wind direction and a home built on that configuration would command better wind flow and be cooler, not to mention an abundance of Qi, nature’s energy force!

So it comes as no surprise that as we become more aware of the cost and environmental impacts of energy use, natural ventilation is becoming popular again as a means of reducing electricity use as well as to create superior indoor air quality.

Unfortunately, not all homes and office buildings are built on the natural North-South orientation, so it becomes relevant to examine some ways in which we can make the best of what we do have.  

This is important because how we feel inside our homes and offices affects our health, mood and ability to work well. A very simple example - in a mechanically ventilated room, air is recycled, and depending on the efficiency of the means employed to freshen the air (as well as how much electricity is used), indoor air quality either improves or remains stagnant when it will result in the Sick Building Syndrome.

A 1984 World Health Organisation report suggested that the ailments related to this syndrome could afflict as many as a third of new and remodelled buildings worldwide. The syndrome is mainly caused by flaws in the ventilation and air-conditioning systems, contaminants produced by out-gassing of some types of building materials, volatile organic compounds, mould, improper exhaust ventilation of ozone (as a by-product of some office machinery), light industrial chemicals used within the building, or a lack of adequate fresh-air intake and air filtration.

Any increase in non-oxygen levels (say of carbon dioxide in an office or home) greatly affects our productivity, mood and well-being. So what can we do to address this in our own homes? One simple solution is the use of fans, strategically placed to improve internal airflow, such as where the doors are. We can also use wind-driven roof ventilators which consumes zero energy, no leakage, and are reasonably economical to install.

They work using the stack effect or the movement of air into and out of buildings due to the difference in indoor-to-outdoor air density resulting from temperature and vapour pressure differences.

Since it is wind-powered, energy and maintenance costs are almost nil, but one must ensure they are fixed after a proper pre-analysis that includes climatic conditions and geographical factors.

Harnessed properly, wind is a powerful force. It is already being used to generate clean energy on a large scale. According to studies by the Global Wind Energy Council and Greenpeace International, wind could meet as much as 12% of global power demand in ten years time, and up to 22% by 2030.

The 1,000 GW of wind power capacity projected to be installed by 2020 would reduce as much as 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emission every year and would represent as much as 75% of the cumulative emissions reductions that industrialised countries committed to in their 2020 ‘Copenhagen pledges’.

Both China and the US have already made great strides in boosting their respective wind-generated power sources. Wouldn’t it be great if us ordinary folks find ways to harness this natural energy source?


Sam Tan is the executive director of Ken Holdings, the developer of  an award-winning green certified project Ken Bangsar


This article appeared on the Property page, The Edge Financial Daily, December 10, 2010.

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