Email Print Share

"Wind Yield" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

The power output of wind farms can be increased by an order of magnitude--at least tenfold--simply by optimizing the placement of turbines on a given plot of land, say researchers at the California Institute of Technology.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: wind sound) Inherit the Wind.

(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: wind farm sound) Welcome to the farm, a wind farm, where giant turbines make capturing energy a breeze. Well, sort of. Though harnessing wind power has improved since the early days the farms are not really that efficient. But new research out of Caltech just may blow all that away.

It could increase energy yield tenfold. Recent conventional improvements have dealt with bigger blades placed higher up. The Caltech group is focusing instead on the design and layout of the wind farm itself.

The team contends there's enough wind power at lower heights, say around 30 feet if you place the turbines in a proper array and use the right design. They favor "vertical axis wind turbines" or "VAWTS" that look more like egg beaters sticking out of the ground than propellers.

You can place the VAWTS closer together--tests showed just 16 feet apart. They don't have as big a 'wake.' By having each VAWT turn in the opposite direction from its neighbors, the researchers reduced the drag on each turbine, so they spin faster. In field tests the VAWTS produced up to 47 watts of power per square meter (PSM). A comparably-sized propeller-style wind farm generates just 2 to 3 watts PSM.

(Sound effect: wind sound) While there's still more to learn about turbine placement and design, this new research could signal a shift in the wind.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.