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Continued Development Of A Novel Next Generation Airborne Wind Energy System For Small And Mid Size Farms

Award Information
Agency: Department of Agriculture
Branch: N/A
Contract: 2016-33610-25696
Agency Tracking Number: 2016-03858
Amount: $600,000.00
Phase: Phase II
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: 8.12
Solicitation Number: N/A
Solicitation Year: 2016
Award Year: 2016
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2016-09-01
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2018-08-31
Small Business Information
Beaverton, OR 97005-0000
United States
DUNS: 078805042
HUBZone Owned: N
Woman Owned: N
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: N
Principal Investigator
 David Schaefer
 (503) 778-0900
Business Contact
 Katie Schaefer
Title: Director Strategic Partnerships
Phone: (503) 989-9825
Research Institution

As Oregon farmer and Organically Grown Company (OGC) executive director Andy Westlund confesses, being one of the 800,000 small commercial farmers in America is challenging (Hoppe, MacDonald, & Korb 2010). Small farms are highly exposed to market risks, tend to focus on commodities, and have profit margins of just 3-4% (Hoppe, MacDonald, & Korb 2010). As such, small price changes of a single crop can have a substantial impact on a farm's financial status (Page 2011). Variable input costs, such as energy, can play havoc with financing annual operating loans (Page 2011). Therefore, reasonable methods of reducing the uncertainty of operating costs and diversifying the income of small farms are desirable--not just for the farmers themselves, but also for maintaining this sector of our agricultural industry.In our market research, we conducted sit down interviews with more than 45 small farmers such as Andy Westlund. Not surprisingly, their desire to reduce operating costs is the primary factor that motivates farmers to produce their own electricity, usually through solar or wind. Andy uses recycled solar panels and primitive wind turbines to reduce his energy bills. For small farmers, the use of alternative energy simultaneously lowers the operating cost of the farm by reducing the usage of grid electricity and reduces exposure to risk from fluctuating energy prices (Sands & Westcott 2011; USDA 2011). Finally, farmers recognize that generating renewable energy and using fewer fossil fuels reduces dependence on foreign oil, providing greater local and national energy security while reducing the risk of climate change (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education 2008).However, there are distinct challenges that have kept many small farms from implementing solar and wind energy. The top three barriers that Oregon farmers identified are (based on our own and external research): 1) up-front project costs, 2) permitting, and 3) troublesome paperwork for the incentive programs (Page 2011). Andy Westlund, for example, had to secure county permits for his twenty-foot wind tower, which is sited just a few steps from his thirty-foot-tall house. Additionally, he admits that the electricity produced will never cover the up-front cost of the system.In addition to the general renewable energy challenges Andy has encountered, traditional wind turbines have difficulties specific to farmers that have limited their adoption. The construction of the wind tower can disrupt farming activities and cause soil compaction issues (Linowes 2013). The tower and its blades can also pose an operating and safety problem for agriculture aerial work and can significantly hamper access to cropland, in turn detrimentally affecting agricultural production (National Agricultural Aviation Association 2014). Finally, while the permit and incentive program paperwork problems are important, the up-front costs of a large wind turbine can remove any chance of adoption by small farmers. For example, wind farms often use the Vestas V82-1.65 turbine (a 1.6 MW unit), which has an installed cost of approximately $3.3 million ($2,000 per kW capacity) (NREL 2014). This is well outside the financial range of any small farm. Although wind turbines are available in smaller sizes and prices, their efficiency drops quickly with the shorter tower while maintaining a similar level of product complexity. As a result, the system install cost doubles to $4,000 per kW capacity. Additionally, they actually produce only 10-15% of their stated generating capacity, about half the efficiency of utility scale systems (NREL 2014). Thus, a wind tower system that may be affordable to the average small farmer (e.g., tens of thousands of dollars) does not produce enough electricity to make it financially sensible.eWind Solutions sees these obstacles as both a problem and an opportunity. Our intention is to remove these barriers and create affordable wind energy generation systems

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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