Measuring the tunnelling effect -- Tapping into a potential resource

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A college research paper measuring the wind strength along Canada's busiest freeway has lead to a full-scale wind assessment program testing the theory that major transportation corridors are an untapped energy resource. "There are 16 lanes, eight lanes going in each direction, and we are just east of the centre of its length," explains professor Michael Gauthier, referring to a roughly 75 kilometre stretch of Highway 401 that runs right by the Toronto-area college where he teaches.

A paper by two students in his civil engineering design course, assigned to examine the suitability of the Centennial College campus for on-site power generation, caught the attention of the college's administration as well as Toronto Hydro, the city's energy utility. The students, Dave Clark and Matt Vonarburg, believe the lengthy open area running in an east-west direction intensifies west flowing winds, creating a tunnelling effect. Utility engineers experienced with local wind assessment believe the pair may be right. "All you have to do is walk out there and you feel the wind," says Clark. "If you're feeling that at ground level, and put up a 30-metre tower, and get readings at 20 and 30 metres above the ground, it's a fair bet they're going to be a lot stronger."

The college has invested C$25,000 in a 30-metre tower carrying wind assessment equipment and is now gathering data and funds in the expectation of putting up a 50 kW wind turbine. Coincidentally, Centennial is also looking at developing other alternate energy generation, such as photovoltaic power and biomass, to assist with a new program on renewable energy technology, expected to be launched in the fall of 2006.

"If we can produce some of our own energy and do some analysis for research partners or the public, and try to put information out there that will benefit the industry in general, I think we're doing our job," says Gauthier.

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