We set up the wind turbine directly atop a granite cliff at
The Gap is a 40-meter deep canyon-like granite
channel into which the waves surge in from the ocean. An infernal churning.
Atop The Gap is one of Australia's growing number of wind farms. Stefan and
Dirk secure the mast with climbing protection, 'friends' as they're called, and
clamping wedges driven into the cliff face. It is a grandiose place to start
the tour. Behind the cliffs there are green hills and in front of them white
sand beaches. There wasn't much wind last night - about force three. That's
not strong enough for the wind turbine to fully charge the Wind Explorer's
lithium-ion batteries in the alotted 10 hours. For that we need full force 4
But it's not all that serious because we still have to fine-tune the
system. The lithium-ion blocks are 'intelligent' high-tech batteries. They
require a battery management system. Up until now, wind turbines only charged
lead batteries. They're relatively easy for the turbine's regulator to manage.
They are either full or empty. Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, work
at much higher voltages and have to actively open the cells in charging. All
this means we have to experiment a bit with regulator settings. We start
charging: a little over 8 kWh are fed into the four batteries. That's
about 2 dollars worth of electricity - enough for about 200 kilometers.
taking down the wind turbine, we set off at around 11:45 a.m. -- through Albany
onto the highway toward Esperance. We have the same winds inland as on the
coast, but a bit gustier.
We're in good spirits because the Wind Explorer has
been running very well so far from Perth to Albany. The body's lightweight
sandwich construction as a monocoque (akin to formula one race cars), the
low-friction tires and Li-Tec batteries have made for a very reliable vehicle
that can easily go the distance.
The Wind Explorer is also very aerodynamic.
Velomobiel's team in The Netherlands really came up with a good design. Even
crosswinds are barely noticeable. On the level road, the wheel hub motor draws
about 20 amps -- or about one kW. At a speed of about 50 km/h this amounts to
an energy consumption of about 2.0kW/h for 100 kilometers. As a comparison: for
100 kilometers, the Wind Explorer uses only about half the power needed to wash
and dry a load of laundry.
For the first 110 kilometers to Wellstead, it's
quite hilly. The wind is form the side. The road follows the coast to the east.
It's great fun rolling through Australia at about 50 km/h. You can take in
everything ... the smell of plants, the stench of rotting kangaroo roadkills
and the wind suction of giant trailer trucks, some of them 30 meters long,
For the second stretch from Wellstead to the vicinity of
Fitzgerald, it turns out our rear batteries are empty. We have to switch to
those in the front. Our GPS shows 206 kilometers and all that on 4 kWh. What great energy efficiency!
After another 99 kilometers we make it to
Raventhorpe by about 9 p.m. It's a little town with a lithium mine.
Unfortunately, we can't stay long enough to visit the mine since we have to set
off again very early tomorrow morning. Everything's closed in town except a
pub. The owner's name is Peter. He came to Australia when he was seven. He
speaks pretty good German and is putting together a barbecue for us. There's
sufficient beer for the occasion ... and the Wind Explorer is plugged into a
wall outlet in the wash kitchen somewhere between the washing machines and
driers. The batteries still hold 1/4 of their total capacity. They're not
entirely empty and will take 6 kWh more from the grid over night. That's about
one and a half Australian dollars worth of electricity. We'll pay Peter back in
the morning. The regulator still isn't adjusted properly to allow the batteries
to be charged by the wind turbine. By the way, Stefan and Dirk are looking
forward to using the kites for the first time. But conditions still haven't
been optimal and being towed along by kites isn't something welcomed on the
Australian highways. So we restrain ourselves for the first few days.