Some people say a uniquely different invention of George Arthur Spencer on his property in the Cross Roads community near Athens looks like an alien antenna. Spencer jokes that it is a feeder for giraffes.
In a serious vein, Spencer, who has more than 20 patents, said his latest invention is three-dimensional wind power technology designed to harvest wind energy. In less technical terms, it is a new concept in windmills similar to wind turbines in West Texas.
Dr. Hassan El-Kishky, chair of the electrical engineering department at the University of Texas at Tyler, said Spencer’s invention “sounds like a good idea.” There will need to be an analysis to see if it will actually be feasible in terms of cost, and whether it will add to present technology and realize improvement in efficiency as well as reliability, El-Kishky said.
Spencer contends his 3D wind-power technology is a major upgrade over traditional wind turbines. He calculates that his 3D wind power will produce much more electricity per acre per hour than a traditional wind turbine — 50 to 100 times more power per acre.
Apart from not being a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a week electrical source like nuclear power, Spencer projects his 3D wind-power technology can outproduce a nuclear power plant on an equivalent area of land. He quickly acknowledged his invention will not replace nuclear plants, which provide a steady source of power, while supplemental energies like wind and solar power can only be used when they are available.
Having built a feasibility model of his 3D wind-power instrument, Spencer next plans a working prototype — a preproduction model. He is looking for a partner for his company, G Sharp Labs, and hopes to find a manufacturer of existing wind turbines — a major corporation — willing to produce his invention using his technology.
Billy Calcote, professor/coordinator of electrical/electronic controls technology at Tyler Junior College’s West Campus, noted there is a hunger for alternative energy sources like wind and solar. He pointed out that wind turbines require a lot of maintenance. If Spencer has a better design, Calcote said, “he may have clinched longevity of wind power generation.”
Spencer said the 3D wind-power technology is very user-friendly as far as repair and maintenance. Repairing or replacing a generator on a traditional wind turbine requires a big crane or helicopter, Spencer said, but a generator could be changed out on his windmill with a couple of bucket trucks like those used to service streetlights.
Spencer maintains his invention is environmentally friendly. Although wind turbines spin very fast, his device turns very slowly, which is safer for birds, and it makes virtually no noise, unlike the whistling noise from traditional wind turbines, Spencer said.
His 3D wind power is not as limited as traditional wind turbines, Spencer said.
“They have a narrow band of wind speeds that can produce great amounts of electricity. Mine is different; I have a lot of design considerations,” Spencer said. His computer will tell what shape of device is needed for a particular wind condition with a certain kind of power, he added.
Also, his 3D wind-power technology can be loaded into semitrucks, in contrast to big blades that people see going down the highway for traditional wind turbines, Spencer said.
Spencer spent approximately 18 months working on his 3D wind-power technology feasibility model. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has issued a patent in his name for the concept of his invention and he is pursuing patents for the parts.
Spencer calls his invention 3D wind-power technology because when he visualizes the wind, he sees in his mind cubes of wind coming at his invention as opposed to just wind blowing.
Whenever the devices produce excessive electricity, Spencer anticipates he will convert that into hydrogen, which he plans to sell to farmers to run farm equipment at less cost than diesel.
The 3D wind-power technology is the latest in a string of inventions by Spencer, who says he has very little formal education.
Spencer failed first grade. In the fifth grade, he moved to California and performed on placement tests at the second-grade level in reading and writing, but at the 14th-grade level in mathematics. He quit school after the ninth grade. He said educators can thwart creative thinking.
Spencer got his first taste of problem-solving when he was about 7 and helped his older brother build a gas-powered wooden bicycle to deliver newspapers. His brother needed the bike because his legs were withered from polio. Spencer took no credit for the project and remembers that the bike was his brother’s idea.
Spencer is from a family of migrant workers from Oklahoma. He recalled at times when he was growing up living in ditches beside the road and in houses with dirt floors. He raked leaves to make his bed.
Spencer said, “We did whatever we had to to survive.” Yet he added, “I had a wonderful life and wonderful parents. We all worked together picking cotton.”
After dropping out of school, Spencer lived at a uranium mine and also became a cowboy and did ranching.
When he was 16, he joined the Navy, serving two stints totaling 10 years and received his initial training in electronics, including radios, radar and cryptology.
After his Navy service, Spencer spent more than 18 years in the electronics field, working his way up from junior technician at Texas Instruments to engineer for Teradyne and senior staff engineer for STMicroelectronics.
While associated with Teradyne, Spencer recalls developing off-line laser repair, which he described as a major advancement in industry.
He was called in after Japan struggled trying to resolve electronic and laser production issues for memory chips for a miniature semiconductor. Spencer said he rewrote their laser programs within six weeks.
Spencer received his first patent in August 1983 for an electrical wiring tester to determine the quality of the wiring installed in a home or building and identifying electrical problems.
El-Kishky, of UT Tyler, said electrical wire tester technology normally tests for continuity of the circuit and for health of the insulation. It is important to have a tester to make sure wiring is in good condition, especially when multiple wires are harnessed together, for example in a small space, he said.
Calcote, of TJC, said problems that a wire tester can locate could lead to noise problems, to the wire breaking down quicker and in worst-case scenarios could create fires. Some items from China are made with very cheap components, but a wiring tester can find whether the wiring will live up to expectations long term, he said.
In 1990, Spencer received numerous patents for an arc fault circuit interrupter, a product now available at Home Depot and Lowe’s.
An unwanted arc has been responsible for burning down buildings and causing fires in houses, Calcote said. The National Electrical Code started to require new homes to have an arc fault circuit interrupter in outlets in bedrooms, El-Kishky said, and the requirement was expanded to most outlets in residences.
When problems with the B-1 bomber caused it to be grounded during the Gulf War, Spencer said, he and his engineers were able to identify the problem and the plane was restored to flight status.
General Motors tried for a year and a half to resolve arcing problems with its Chevy Volt, a hybrid car, and then called in Spencer’s team. “We resolved the problem in one month,” he said.
The electrical smart meter on houses contains a lot of components derived from work he has done, Spencer said. “There are a lot of products out there that have my footprint on them. I don’t get credit for them. I’m just happy they have the technology to do what they do (with them),” he said.
About 1991, Spencer became an entrepreneur.
He borrowed $40,000 and started his own electronic company, ZLAN Ltd. Within a year, sales totaled $186,000, and within five years had grown to $6 million a year. Sales ultimately reached $10 million a year.
Spencer sold ZLAN to his adult children — three boys and two girls — in 1999 and stopped going to work in an office. He bought land, learned how to ranch and began focusing on his inventions.
Spencer settled in Cross Roads about 10 years ago, partly because it is close to the Athens airport, where he stored an airplane that he had at the time.
Spencer, 76, said he works 18-hour days seven days a week at his home on inventions and other projects.
He wakes up about 5:30 in the morning, but does not get out of bed until maybe 7 o’clock because he likes to do complex math calculations for his projects in his head. During the day, Spencer does research, considers things in three or four different ways, works on his computer and makes models and prototypes.
Spencer said he visualizes inventions and builds them in his head thousands of times and is grateful when he finds a showstopper or fixes something that others could not fix.
“I enjoy what I do,” Spencer said.
He said he feels “asked” and “assigned” by a spiritual source outside of this world to invent and to solve problems, but added that he is not a religious person. Spencer guards against getting disappointed if something does not work out. “You just keep going and don’t give up,” he said.
Russell Richardson, an Athens real estate agent, got to know Spencer about three years ago when he was trying to sell some land.
“I found him interesting; he’s a fascinating man. His accomplishments impressed me,” Richardson said. “He’s constantly rolling numbers through his head. One of his strengths is he does calculations in his head without getting a pen and pad out or a calculator. He has done some remarkable stuff in his career.”
Richardson described Spencer as reserved, humble and interested in solving problems to make society a better place. He said Spencer is not motivated by how much money he will make from his inventions.