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Wind power research at a CalTech wind farm has yielded a 10x boost to power efficiency by using vertical axis wind turbines arranged so as to mimic schooling fish.

Clean Power

CalTech Vertical Axis Wind Turbines Boost Wind Farm Power Efficiency 10x

Wind power research at a CalTech wind farm has yielded a 10x boost to power efficiency by using vertical axis wind turbines arranged so as to mimic schooling fish.

Researchers at CalTech have found a way to increase the power output of wind farms at least 10x simply by optimizing the placement of wind turbines in a farm to “maximize its energy collecting efficiency at heights closer to the ground.”  Besides significantly enhancing the economics of wind farms, the design approach would also significantly reduce land use requirements, environmental impacts and threats to flying wildlife.

Inspired by the movement of schooling fish and the much noted inefficiencies inherent in wind turbines generally speaking, CalTech’s research team, led by John Dabiri, has been testing its theory at the Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy (FLOWE), an experimental wind farm in the California desert.

Swimming against the tide of the industry trend of building larger, taller horizontal axis turbines and larger wind farms, Dabiri and team have been working with smaller, vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs) that take advantage of typically lower wind velocities at lower altitudes.  VAWTs have a much smaller footprint than the much more common horizontal axis counterparts and can be spaced much closer together.  They are much slimmer and aren’t nearly as tall.

“The global wind power available 30 feet off the ground is greater than the world’s electricity usage, several times over,” Dabiri was quoted as saying in this Physorg news report.

Testing a wind farm configuration made up of 24, 10-meter tall VAWTs with 1.2 meter diameters spaced about 5 meters apart, the research team generated 21-47 watts per square meter of land.  A HAWT wind farm of the same size would typically generate just to 2-3 watts per square meter.

Minimizing the space between VAWTs and having each turbine turn in the opposite direction of its neighbors minimized the amount of drag on each, enabled them to spin faster, and maximized the power efficiency of the farm as a whole.

Next up for Dabiri and the CalTech team are to scale up the field trial and improve on “off-the-shelf wind turbine designs for the pilot study,” according to the Physorg article.

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I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.

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