Fish Are Unexpectedly Helping to Make Wind Farms More Powerful

Illustration for article titled Fish Are Unexpectedly Helping to Make Wind Farms More Powerful

Wind turbines are big on power and marvels to look at. They're also rather inefficient. So some scientists thought about it, talked, and figured out a way to increase their power output tenfold. All by staring at fish!


John Dabiri, professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at Caltech, and his colleagues set out to test the hypothesis last summer at his Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy. They'd observed that current Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines, or HAWTS, require a lot of space since interference from adjacent turbine's wakes, or wind disturbance, causes them to perform less optimally. More space means more money.

But Dabiri noticed something about schools of fish that he could bend to his work:

"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... "It turns out that many of the same physical principles can be applied to the interaction of vertical-axis wind turbines."

In other words, the fish used the cruising paths of their neighbors to their advantage. The same could be applied to wind turbines. Vertical Axis Wind Turbines to be exact, which look more like merry-go-rounds than they do fans. Pack these guys together and the clockwise rotation of one turbine will help power the counter-clockwise rotation of another. And so on and so forth until you really see the results:

The six VAWTs generated from 21 to 47 watts of power per square meter of land area; a comparably sized HAWT farm generates just 2 to 3 watts per square meter.

That's incredible. The next logical step would be to push for these idea to be implemented as cheaply as possible in areas that could use them. And, at the very least, I now have a newfound appreciation for tuna. [Caltech via Green Car Congress]


The problem with the vertical axis turbines is the giant thrust bearing at the bottom is nearer the ground and gets mucked up with dirt. To replace the bearing you have to disassemble the entire turbine. The vertical axis turbines tried in the 80s near Palm Springs, CA sat idle for years before they finally pulled them out.