Wind Studies Look to Fish


Researchers testing new wind farm configurations based on schools of fish.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology are testing new wind farm configurations based on observations of schools of fish. By using vertical wind turbines and placing them better in relation to each other, wind farms may be able to produce 10 times the amount of energy per acre than is currently generated.

Fluid-dynamics expert John Dabiri and his team are looking into two aspects of wind farms to improve their efficiency: how to get more turbines onto the small plots of land, and determining the best placement of the turbines in relation to each other to generate the most energy. The team is also researching the more space-efficient vertical axis wind turbines rather than horizontal, which are most commonly used today.

In current wind farms, all of the turbines rotate in the same direction. But while studying the vortices left behind by fish swimming in a school, Dabiri noticed that some vortices 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.

Dabiri has purchased two acres of land north of Los Angeles establishing the Caltech Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy. This site will be used to test vertical axis wind turbines and various configurations in real world conditions rather than simply using computer models. Further research may include power-generation experiments that will look at using the generated power locally or through the grid.

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