May 19, 2010

"Schooled" wind turbines perform better

Arrange a bunch of vertical-axis wind turbines like a school of fish and you can boost the amount of energy each turbine produces.

A computer model inspired by the fluid dynamics of schools of fish shows that in an array of vertical-axis turbines the wakes generated by upwind turbines can increase the power output of downwind turbines. The right arrangement results in average turbine performance of up to 1.4 times that of standalone turbines.

Turbine wake is usually detrimental, which means today's more common horizontal-axis wind turbines have to be spread apart. This limits the number of turbines that can be placed in a given area.

Horizontal-axis turbines are more efficient than vertical-axis wind turbines, but the fish-inspired arrangement could make vertical-axis turbines more efficient on a farm-by-farm basis. The scheme could increase the amount of wind energy that can be collected from a given area by as much as 10 times compared to horizontal-axis wind turbines.

The researchers are developing more detailed models and conducting field tests to assess the system over longer periods of time and in various wind conditions.

Research paper:
Fish schooling as a basis for vertical axis wind turbine farm design
arXiv (submitted to BioInspiration and Biomimetics)

Researchers' contact:
John O. Dabiri

Further info:
The Caltech Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy (FLOWE) -- project site

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