A Wiltshire-based innovator has developed a novel wind turbine design that aims to increase the power and efficiency produced by traditional wind turbines by up to 30%. SuperVAWT has improved its engagement with industry and its readiness for financial investment with support from Innovate UK EDGE.
SuperVAWT specialises in Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWTs). These turbines use vertical blades that revolve around a central tower rather than the traditional Horizontal Access Wind Turbines (HAWTs), or ‘propellor’ based designs.
“Historically, vertical designs have been less efficient than horizontal designs,” says James Whinney, Founder, SuperVAWT. “So all the research and development has been invested in horizontal technology and that’s why we see them everywhere today.”
In 2009, James took a hobbyist’s interest in VAWT design and began investigating the potential for increased efficiency.
“I was as shocked as anyone to discover that it could be more efficient and powerful than horizontal axis designs. We’ve come a long way since then and it's not a hobbyist’s pursuit anymore, it's an industrial business now.”
“If the UK is to reach its target of powering every home with offshore wind by 2030, then even a 1% increase in turbine efficiency would be a major advantage. Our technology will deliver at least a 10% increase and the real figure is likely to be closer to 20-30%.”
SuperVAWT’s novel design for wind power
SuperVAWT’s novel design places the generator at the base of the turbine tower. This delivers significant benefits particularly to the floating offshore wind industry.
By repositioning the generator, SuperVAWT is able to lower the turbine’s centre of gravity, minimising the risk of it capsizing whilst being towed to location. The design also significantly helps in turbine maintenance as it mitigates the need for engineers to service key components a hundred meters above floating platforms.
The next step for SuperVAWT will be to partner with a company building offshore wind farms and build a full-scale prototype. James stresses that the company will not be ‘reinventing the wheel’ here but will leverage the decades of industry R&D in key turbine components, such as generators and power conditioning systems, changing only the blade structure.
Investment readiness support from Innovate UK EDGE
In 2021, SuperVAWT decided to focus on its investment readiness and messaging strategies and turned to Innovate UK EDGE for support.
“The challenge I face is that large wind energy companies are heavily invested in horizontal access turbines, so finding partners, customers, and subsequently investors is difficult,” says James.
Innovation and Growth Specialist, James Lloyd, developed a detailed growth plan with SuperVAWT and introduced colleague Jeremy Davies, who helped the company refine its pitch deck.
“Jeremy brought a very fresh perspective to my pitch strategy,” says James. “He recommended that I lead with the benefits of the generator’s position, as that’s instantly understandable to people who aren’t experts. I’d always led with the efficiency, but Jeremy pointed out that the science here is much more complex and difficult to understand.”
“That was an important intervention and something I could have never spotted myself as I’m just too close to the data and the design.”
Ralph Wood was next introduced to help SuperVAWT establish a more credible and compelling overall proposition.
“Ralph suggested a lot of great improvements to the design of my pitch deck and coached me on how to present the de-risking of the technology, the comparison features, the phases of funding and other fundamentals.”
“Between them, Ralph and Jeremy have made a huge difference to how SuperVAWT is perceived by investors. The pitch deck seems to really connect with the people I’ve sent it to, and those who have seen the ‘before and after’ versions have commented on how much progress we’ve made as a business.”
Reflecting on his support journey with his Innovation and Growth Specialist, James says: “I was in a difficult place when I began working with Innovate UK EDGE. We were lacking a bit of momentum as a company, I’d personally suffered a bereavement, we were struggling to get stakeholders engaged and I was finding it all a bit overwhelming.”
“It was just great to have James on the other end of the phone who could act like a sponge for some of those problems, make suggestions, help me strategise and connect me with the right specialists.”
“It's a bit like being a small boat in the waters – if someone gives you a push, it can help you build momentum, energise, and think, ‘ok I'm not alone here.”
Innovate UK EDGE will continue to support this Wiltshire business as it helps to accelerate the UK towards carbon Net Zero.
It was just great to have James on the other end of the phone who could act like a sponge for some of those problems, make suggestions, help me strategise and connect me with the right specialists.”
James Whinney, Founder, SuperVAWT