What can fish and wind farms have in common?

Well, an absolutely fascinating article via the BBC describes a new wind turbine array design inspired by the movements of schools of fish:

Familiar propeller-style wind turbines with large sweeping blades have almost reached their limit of efficiency. But in a wind farm, they must be spaced widely apart to avoid turbulence from the other turbines. This has limited wind farm power output to around two watts per square metre of land at favourable sites.

But redesigned wind farms could perhaps get up to 10 times more power from the same land.

And this is where the fish come in:

[The new design] uses “vertical axis” wind turbines that resemble upright, spinning egg whisks. Although they are less efficient individually than the propeller-style turbines, they are able to use turbulent winds from many directions…

“Organising the arrangement of wind turbines based upon the vortices shed by schooling fish is definitely a new approach,” said aeronautical engineer Robert Whittlesey of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

“The fish aim to align themselves to optimise their forward propulsion,” he writes, and this can be adapted in a turbine array to maximise energy extraction…

A wind farm of this closely-packed design could produce 20 to 30 watts per square metre of land, around 10 times that of current wind farms.

Ten times the power! Awesome! Thank you, fish!

Additionally, while the article makes it clear that there are some kinks to work out, the other attributes of the fish school-inspired wind farm are significant:

The advantages don’t stop there. At 10m high, the turbines used in this study were only around one tenth of the height of typical propeller-style turbines.

This means that they are less intrusive in the landscape, less visible to air-traffic control radar and could be less harmful to birds and bats.

These are not small matters and could go along way toward addressing the concerns of typical NIMBYISTS.

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