Western Manitoulin business develops groundbreaking renewable energy technology

Shown in photo is an example of Windular’s 10 kW wind turbine system that can be hooked to Canadian and international telecom towers.

GORE BAY—A Gore Bay area business is providing groundbreaking renewable energy technology for telecommunications companies on new or existing tower assets that will generate clean energy to be consumed by the tower. Their 10kw wind or 2.25 kw solar systems can be attached up to a telecommunications tower like a set of antenna sector mounts.

“This is the first of its kind technology in the world,” stated Rick Gagnon, one of the founders of Windular Research and Technologies Inc. “There are two companies we are working with in Canada,” he said, noting that the very “first unit was shipped to Pakistan last week.”

“The typical windmill could be installed at the top of the communications tower and would be smaller in size however, the Windular technologies can be installed virtually anywhere on the tower,” said Mr. Gagnon. He said the new turbine concept was designed two-and-a-half years ago.

“With the rising cost of diesel and energy, we feel this will be a major solution for the telecommunication industry,” said Mr. Gagnon. Windular has designed, developed and successfully commercialized state of the art renewable energy applications for the global telecom tower industry.

Rick Gagnon, one of the founders of Windular Research and Technologies Inc. displays one of Windular’s state-of-the-art 10 kW wind turbine conveyance systems that can provide telecom and communications tower industries with a reliable, cost-efficient clean power alternative to the traditional diesel genset.
Rick Gagnon, one of the founders of Windular Research and Technologies Inc. displays one of Windular’s state-of-the-art 10 kW wind turbine conveyance systems that can provide telecom and communications tower industries with a reliable, cost-efficient clean power alternative to the traditional diesel genset.

Mr. Gagnon has been working in the renewable energy sector for over 25 years and was joined by his son Mathieu several years ago. The father and son team have been involved with renewable energy on numerous projects. Mr. Gagnon explained that about two-and-a-half years ago he was introduced to a veteran US telecom tower specialist who had been working on a solution to adapt a wind generator to a telecom tower without interfering with the radio or cellular equipment and antennas and generate renewable energy specifically for the tower. A relationship was formed and shortly after the organization of Windular, based out of Gore Bay, followed.

Mr. Gagnon explained that one of the largest costs that mobile telecom companies face is the cost of energy to power the equipment and antennas on their towers. In countries like Canada and the United States that power typically comes from reliable, yet increasingly costly grid-tied sources. However, in many countries around the world mobile telecom companies have to rely on diesel gen-sets and costly, dirty diesel fuel to power their towers.

“What many people don’t realize is that, in some of these countries, the telecom industry is among the largest consumers of diesel fuel,” said Mr. Gagnon. Analysts predict that by 2020 the global telecom industry will be contributing about 45 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Until now, renewable energy applications for the telecom tower industry consisted of either mounting a small wind turbine on the top of a  tower, or installing ground-mounted solar panels on a rack beside a tower. Both applications had their limits.

The small top-mounted turbines presented engineering challenges and most weren’t big enough to generate the power required to satisfy the tower’s load, while the solar panels often required additional land leases, along with the installation of additional concrete, poles and perimeter fencing. “Windular’s task,” said Mr. Gagnon, “was to come up with a renewable energy application utilizing existing tower assets that could provide reliable, clean, cost-efficient power to the telecom industry.”

So, Mr. Gagnon and his partners got to work on designing, building and testing a new application of a traditional technology. Over the course of the next two years, Windular took a traditional 10 kW wind turbine and turned it on its head. Mr. Gagnon said, “this is about innovation. We took a well established technology in the form of a wind turbine and came up with a design that would allow the turbine to be mounted on a customized rail and carriage system permitting the turbine to travel 360 degrees around the tower seeking out the best wind resources.”

Windular’s 10 kW wind turbine conveyance system can be installed at any elevation on any type of telecom tower (for example monopole, guy-wire or self-supporting) and the system’s power electronics allow for perfect alignment of the turbine with the existing wind direction.

Windular’s 10kW wind turbine also has all of the same safeguards as a traditional large commercial grid turbine. Windular’s system can detect power connection loss to or from the grid or batteries, as the case may be, and can drive the turbine into a safe position before applying a brake system until the power connection is restored. Windular’s turbine is also safeguarded against dangerously high wind speeds with patented technology rights so no over-speed can occur.

Mr. Gagnon pointed out that after 18 months of testing, numerous design modifications and building the first and second wind prototypes, Mathieu came up with the idea of replicating the same rail and carriage system for a solar application. Windular soon adopted the idea and subsequently designed a 2.25 kW solar product that can be mounted above the tree line near the base of the tower (either in a hybrid application with the wind turbine, or in a stand-alone application) tracking the rise of the sun from east to west. Both the wind and solar systems are driven by state-of-the-art power electronics.

Mr. Gagnon noted that Windular might not have achieved commercialization without the support of the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund. “As you can appreciate, there is a tremendous amount of research and development that goes into technologies like ours and that costs money.” The NOHFC has been a big supporter of Windular and its early vision.

“This is the first of its kind technology in the world,” stated Rick Gagnon

In addition, Mr. Gagnon was quick to acknowledge the involvement and support of a number of area businesses who have assisted Windular with the design, fabrication and manufacturing of its systems. He noted Freddie’s Welding of Gordon Twp. and noted Aeolian Machine Shop in Kagawong; Espanola Upholstery; Arrow Speed Controls, Fastenal, Rastall Nut and Bolt Col., Bristol Machine and Guillevin International, Anixter Canada, Patrick Mechanical, BDI Canada all of Sudbury, have all supplied components for Windular’s system. Moreover, Manitoulin Transport and Near North Customs Brokers have been instrumental in facilitating the shipment of Windular’s first commercial unit to Pakistan.

While Mr. Gagnon never imagined that Windular’s first commercial installation would occur in Pakistan, he says it just goes to show that as Canadians continue to develop innovative technologies, particularly in the ‘green’ space, there is huge market for our products all over the globe. Nothing could be more true for Windular as most of the world’s growth in off-grid and bad-grid towers in the next five years, an estimated 160,000 towers, is expected to come from developing markets in Africa and Asia.

That said, Mr. Gagnon advised that Windular is also currently working with two of Canada’s leading telecom companies and expects to complete installations at two locations (including one in Northern Ontario) in the second quarter of 2016.

While designed specifically for telecom towers, Windular’s products can be installed on any type of tower across numerous industries. Mr. Gagnon is optimistic that the Windular’s innovative technologies may soon revolutionize the telecom tower industry.