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Wind Farm Gets Inspiration From Fish Schools

December 1, 2009

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have developed a blueprint for a wind farm that borrows techniques from schools of fish.

Robert Whittlesey and John Dabiri came up with the concept that could make wind farms more efficient by maximizing power without increasing land usage.

Whittlesey and Dabiri said the concept was inspired by the patterns of schooling fish, which they use to conserve energy.

“When fish swim, they shed tiny vortices in their wake,” said Dabiri. “By schooling together, they can potentially help each other swim by transferring energy between one another through these vortices.”

“For the fish, they are trying to minimize the energy that they consume to swim from Point A to Point B,” Dabiri told Discovery News. “In our case, we’re looking at the opposite problem: How to we maximize the amount of energy that we collect?”

They developed the blueprint for a wind farm that consists of closely-spaced vertical-axis turbines. With less space between turbines, the farm both extracts energy for itself and also helps to direct the flow of wind to the other turbines.

Whittlesey and Dabiri took measurements from turbines designed by a Southern California energy and used computer models to determine the best layout for turbines to show that the power-per-acre of a wind farm could be increased a hundredfold.

The next step is to put their model into action with real turbines.

The study will be presented this month at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society’s (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics will take place from November 22-24.

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