Solving the power puzzle, by land, sea and air

Leviathan Energy founder Daniel Farb: Clustering wind power could be a game changer.

By GREGORY ZELLER // Wind energy won’t save the world.

Neither will wave energy or other forms of hydroelectric generation. So says Daniel Farb, founder of Leviathan Energy, a startup that focuses, naturally, on wind, wave and hydroelectric generation.

Individually, none of these alternative-energy mainstays can solve humanity’s power puzzle – but together, according to the CEO, they can form a supplementary backbone that redefines how humans turn on the lights.

Farb – part inventor, part magnate, all energy – is an industrialist in the Henry Ford mold, dabbling in innovative technologies he sees as global game-changers. The operative word is “technologies,” as in plural: Rather than put all his eggs in one alternative-energy basket, or in this case the “several million dollars” he’s personally invested in Leviathan Energy, Farb is pursuing cutting-edge breakthroughs on several fronts.

“This is about energy security,” he said. “It’s hard to estimate what it’s worth to people not to be without power for 24 hours, but it’s worth something, and for some people it can be a life-saver.”

“As we saw with another storm this week that knocked out power to a lot of people (on Long Island), having many different points of (electricity) production can enable people to run their heaters or their refrigerators until the grid comes back,” he added. “Technologies like wave energy and offshore wind energy can work in combination with solar and natural gas … a good part of the energy mix.”

Long Island is a terrific microcosm for this supplementary energy need, according to the tech-focused entrepreneur. Not only do 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, the recent string of brutal winters and the severe thunderstorms that trounced Suffolk County’s North Shore Aug. 4 continuously prove the vulnerability of the Island’s dated electrical infrastructure, but like many other places, the region suffers what Farb dubbed a “peak energy problem.”

“Sometime in August, in the middle of the day, electricity demand will be high enough to cause a blackout,” he said. “At certain times of the year, there’s a peak energy demand that causes outages. But those few peak times aren’t enough to make it worth it to the utility to spend $100 million building another power plant.”

That’s where alternative energy swoops in. Not as humanity’s electricity savior, Farb noted, but as a global backup plan that keeps the power on while reducing carbon footprints. Through four subsidiary companies (with a fifth on the way), Leviathan Energy – which departed Israel in 2013 for the Long Island High-Technology Incubator at Stony Brook University – is looking to hammer that home.

Two of the four subsidiaries, Flower Turbines LLC and Leviathan Wind Energizer LLC, are based on Long Island. Pioneer Valley Renewables LLC, an innovator of underwater turbines, has opened near the Connecticut River in Massachusetts, while Leviathan Energy Hydroelectric LLC is based in Texas.

The first live demonstration of Pioneer Valley Renewables’ prototype turbine took place in the Connecticut River, noted Farb, who praised the Bay State’s lower manufacturing costs. Texas A&M University, the CEO added, was “very interested in my hydroelectric technology” and “really put some work” into getting Farb to establish Leviathan Energy Hydroelectric in the Lone Star State.

But for Leviathan Wind Energizer and Flower Turbines, which is prototyping smaller turbines ideal for rooftop installation, Long Island was the best bet. Not only did Stony Brook and the LIHTI cast lures strong enough to reel in the Israeli startup, but the Island provided the right needs and opportunities from societal and geographic perspectives – specifically, that vulnerable infrastructure and copious coastal winds.

“These turbines need to be near the coast, where the winds are higher, or above the tree lines,” Farb noted. “There are lots of buildings on Long Island along the coast or above the tree lines.”

His turbines are game-changing because they redefine how wind-generation works, thereby introducing new economies of scale. Until now, wind turbines needed to be spread far apart, “or they interfere with each other,” according to Farb. But these smaller turbines “are designed to be clustered,” he added, and when spaced properly can “improve each other and increase power output by as much as 20 percent.”

A patent is pending on this clustering technology, but Farb already envisions a series of rooftop windfarms comprised of his 15-foot-high, 10-foot-wide turbines.

Two Flower Turbine prototypes are being constructed in Europe and one in Israel; Farb considered Long Island manufacturing, he said, but “the quotes I’ve gotten are many times more expensive than other places.”

The three prototypes are nearing completion  and could be ready in September. The Israeli model will likely remain in that country, but the European pair will probably be shipped to the United States for installation – possibly on Long Island, where they could be combined with technologies being developed at Farb’s other Island-based subsidiary, Leviathan Wind Energizer.

Based on the science of computational fluid dynamics, this strategy basically places objects about 150 feet away from the turbines – at “exactly the right angle,” Farb noted – to increase wind velocity and speed up the turbine blades. This can increase power output by 30 percent or more, according to Farb, a potentially “major change for the wind industry” that not only generates more juice but makes wind-produced electricity cheaper per kilowatt.

While many of these technologies are still in the design and early-manufacturing phases, they’re already generating buzz. Farb was a presenter at the 2014 Advanced Energy Conference hosted by SBU’s Advanced Energy Research & Technology Center, and was also part of a hydropower and water-technology panel during July’s annual Congressional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Expo and Policy Forum.

It’s no surprise the entrepreneur is an in-demand speaker. Farb holds degrees from Yale University (literature), Boston University (medicine) and UCLA (executive management); he previously managed a busy Los Angeles-based ophthalmology practice and founded the University of Healthcare, an e-learning company that sold software to major-league clients including BristolMyers Squibb.

He’s also authored over 100 books and CDs – mostly healthcare and executive-management texts – and co-authored an e-learning course on understanding FDA approvals disguised as a murder mystery (“Agent GCP and the Bloody Consent Form”). Farb also holds more than 30 patents, mostly for designs to improve turbine efficiency, with more pending.

Where Leviathan Energy goes next is in the wind, so to speak. Farb has high hopes for his wave-energy designs and hydroelectric technologies – “You need a combination of these things to be effective,” he noted – and while big utilities like PSEG have not financially supported his wind work, he imagines that will change when he imports his overseas prototypes.

“Once people see them in action, I think we’ll do very well,” the CEO said. “These can really save a utility money by eliminating the need to build another massive power plant just to meet peak demand.”

Also encouraging the entrepreneur is New York’s interest in microgrids, standalone energy systems operating independently of the main power grid, capable of generating backup power during widespread electrical outages. In July, the state awarded roughly $8.3 million to support numerous statewide microgrid efforts, including 14 separate Long Island initiatives.

Flower Turbines’ smaller, clustered units are “great for microgrids,” Farb said, “ideal for urban areas, very quiet and nice to look at.”

Factors like that, he added, may ultimately make his adopted home base his strongest market.

“This is how alternative energies will succeed, and it’s why the wind-power industry will succeed,” Farb said. “I see an excellent market on Long Island.”