Charlotte Slingsby
Innovator Charlotte Slingsby, holding the Moya prototype, a wind energy harvesting sheet. Photograph: Graham Turner/Guardian

In the UK, a Cape Town native design engineering student has designed a new energy generation system to enable households that cannot accommodate solar panels to generate their own clean power.

Innovator Charlotte Slingsby developed the wind harnessing prototype, dubbed Moya (wind in Xhosa, a native language in South Africa), during a two-year post graduate course in innovation design engineering at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London, The Guardian reported.

According to Slingsby’s research, the prototype can generate an estimated 10% of the energy per square metre that a solar panel can.

The design

The new energy generation model is designed to gather small amounts of energy into a larger form, similar to the way rain drops accumulate together to eventually form a stream, The Guardian reported.

Moya is made with sheets of plastic that have wave-like pieces of silver flexible filaments, which capture the small amounts of wind energy that can be stored in a battery.

Each filament, which is sealed in plastic, operates using the piezoelectric effect – the ability of some materials to generate a charge in response to pressure, in this case the gust of wind, The Guardian reports.

Slingsby’s prototype uses a flexible film of polyvinylidene fluoride: “They have the ability to transform strain or bending energy into electrical energy.”

The captured wind energy is passed onto a capacitor and then transferred into a battery. Slingsby describes the process as “thousands of tiny drops [which] need to be accumulated to have enough energy to bring itself to the rivers and eventually to the sea.”

Additional advantages

Motivated by her parents' home that is not suitable for solar panels, Slingsby designed the product to be mounted to surfaces and areas that are not typically used for energy generation, such as under bridges.

Slingsby said: “It is reduced in efficiency but it is looking at a new type of material, which has the ability to go in far more locations. It is all about accessibility to captured energy.”

The London underground is an example— “Every tube is stopping and starting all the time and as it stops you can actually line the section of tunnel where it is slowing down, which almost assists the breaking through the added drag, and absorbs this wasted energy.”

Challenges

With it still being in its infancy stages, Slingsby believes the wind energy prototype could take between five and ten years to reach a marketable stage.

Concerned about how the market will accept this new generation system, Slingsby highlights the importance of introducing new forms of generating clean power:  “What has to be understood is that in the future, whatever energy we are able to absorb freely is actually really valuable and there is going to be lots of different methods with different environments no matter how you look at it.”