During Southern California’s hot summers, people ramp up air conditioners and use more power than normal. That forces utilities to conserve energy and shut off power at specific times and places.
These rolling blackouts have been a problem for a small Indian reservation near San Diego and Los Angeles. Some of the elders in the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians have medical equipment that needs to run 24-7. Juana Majel Dixon, on the Pauma Band’s Legislative Council, said these blackouts can be serious.
“You have people who are wedded to machines, or have to have them at night in order to sleep, or even have the ability to be mobile,” she said.
Majel Dixon thinks she’s found a solution that will help the elders and reduce demand for electricity from the power grid: portable, small-scale wind turbines.
“This is an alternative in not consuming the energy that is a concern to California,” Majel Dixon said.
A Seattle-area company developed the wind turbines Majel Dixon is talking about. They’re called Powersails. The blades look more like a sail from a sailboat than the traditional propeller-like blades seen at wind farms.
Portable renewable energy is part of a trend to generate more off-grid power, without relying on generators that run on fossil fuels.
Companies in California, South Dakota and New York have all developed versions of mobile solar and wind power products. The military also uses mobile renewable energy sources to power its equipment.
Powersails founder Pete Agtuca was named an Innovator of the Year by Seattle Business Magazine. He says the style of Powersails’ blades helps generate power at lower speeds – starting at 4 miles per hour. Agtuca said that makes the turbines ideal for cities.
“There aren’t a lot of wind turbines in urban areas because it’s just not windy enough,” Agtuca said.
To help combat wind variability, the turbines can also generate power through attached solar panels and a generator that can run on biofuel.
The turbines are also lightweight, about 30 pounds total. Agtuca said that means he can ship them to disaster areas.
“It can be transported either by plane, train, or boat anywhere in the world, get it to a disaster area, and deploy it so that they have renewable energy,” he said.
Back in 2007, the Pauma reservation was caught in the middle of two fires, four miles apart. Majel Dixon says the reservation barely survived.
“We lost 80 percent of our land,” she said.
And most of the reservation’s power. Majel Dixon says portable wind turbines will help provide a reliable source of electricity during this year’s wildfire season – which could cut off power from the grid.
© 2013 Northwest Public Radio