There may be substantial benefits to placing vertical-axis turbines in a strategic array, and that some configurations may allow the turbines to work more efficiently as a result of their relationship to others around them-a concept first triggered by examining schools of fish. (Credit: CalTech)

A CalTech researcher believes some reconfigurations may allow vertical wind turbines to work more efficiently. (Credit: CalTech)

Researchers at CalTech have found that schooling fish unlock clues to better vertical axis wind turbines, which could yield as much as 10 times more energy from the same amount of space.

According to a press release, fluid-dynamics expert John Dabiri uses bioinspiration for coming up with better solutions for water and wind energy. According to Dabiri, schools of fish offer a wealth of insight into setting up better wind farms using vertical axis turbines.

“I became inspired by observations of schooling fish, and the suggestion that there is constructive hydrodynamic interference between the wakes of neighboring fish,” says Dabiri, associate professor of aeronautics and bioengineering and head of Caltech’s Biological Propulsion Laboratory. “It turns out that many of the same physical principles can be applied to the interaction of vertical-axis wind turbines.”

In current wind farms (nearly all horizontal turbines), all of the turbine blades rotate in the same direction. But while studying the vortices left behind by fish swimming in a school, Dabiri noticed that some rotated clockwise, while others rotated counter-clockwise. Dabiri, therefore, wants to examine whether alternating the rotation of vertical-axis turbines in close proximity will help improve efficiency.

The second observation he made was that the vortices formed a “staircase” pattern, which contrasts with current wind farms that place turbines neatly in rows.

With optimal placement, Dabiri thinks ten times more energy could be harvested out of the same wind farm using vertical instead of horizontal turbines.

“Our goal is to demonstrate a new technology that enables us to extract significantly more wind energy from a given parcel of land than is currently possible using existing methods,” says Dabiri. “We want to take advantage of constructive aerodynamic interference between closely spaced vertical-axis wind turbines. Our results can potentially make better use of existing wind farms, allow for wind farms to be located closer to urban centers-reducing power transmission costs-and reduce the size of offshore installations.”

Three of Dabiri’s turbines are being provided in partnership with Windspire Energy. In exchange for the use of the turbines, Dabiri will share his research results with the company.

Windspire’s website provides a short video promoting the vertical turbines.

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