Jun 04 2010

New hypotheses on how to make wind power most efficient

Published by under Student blog entries

In another case of using biomimicry to our advantage, researchers at Caltech are trying to find the most optimal way to arrange a wind farm. The problem previously with horizontal axis turbines is that they must be placed far away from each other to function well. Researchers wanted to see if there was a better way to place the turbines to optimize space, especially in the LA area. As they put it, “the primary objective of this research is to achieve significant increases in the power extracted per unit land area of wind farms.”

Photo credit: emuphoto on Flickr

They looked at the wake left by schooling fish, and how the fish aligned themselves to take advantage of that. From all this information, they concluded that they could make an array of vertical axis turbines that actually took advantage of a new alignment. They wanted to use vertical axis turbines because they take up much less space. They hypothesized that staggering the wind turbines would help with how much wind got to each turbine. Furthermore, and this is the coolest part in my opinion, they hypothesized that the wake of one turbine could increase the wind speeds that the turbine behind it receives. Since some wakes spin clockwise, and some are counterclockwise, having certain turbines spinning opposite to each other could enhance the efficiency even more. They claim it is possible to produce as much as 10 ten times more energy than horizontal axis turbines, but I think they mean per unit area.

Credit: John Dabiri/Caltech

They are planning a pilot facility and have purchased two acres of land north of LA. They are putting in 6 vertical axis turbines, and are going to experiment to find the optimal alignment. The plot is estimated to have a capacity of 15 kW. That might not be a significant amount of power, but the alignment and power density is more what they’re aiming for.

I think this research is really important because it will increase the efficiency of our land use with regards to wind farms. In urban areas where open land is tight, like in the home area of LA, this will really make a difference. I also think it’s really cool how studying and applying natural phenomenon can be very useful to us. There is so much we don’t know, and so many intricacies in the world that we don’t yet realize. Only through further observation, study, and research can we hope to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of our world.



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