Schools of fish teach wind farms to be more efficient

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Engineers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) are using the dynamics of schooling fish to help design super-efficient wind farms.

Their new design exploits air turbulence to increase power output in the same way schooling fish use water turbulence from other fish in the shoal to reduce drag and make swimming easier.

Schooling fish arrange themselves to give optimal forward movement for minimum effort, so by studying the fluid dynamics of the vortices shed by each fish and how this affects and relates to each member's position in the school, the engineers have designed the optimal spacing for their turbines to take advantage of the same effect.

Most modern turbines are propeller style but this design has already been tweaked to almost the maximum level of efficiency possible and they must be widely spaced to avoid turbulence from other nearby turbines meaning they require larger areas of land.

The new test array uses 'vertical axis' wind turbines which are typically less efficient than propeller ones, but grouped in closely positioned pairs rotating in the opposite direction to each other, they funnel air to neighbouring turbines meaning turbines five rows back were still able to generate 95% of the power of those in the front row.

This closely packed arrangement means they are able to produce around 10 times the wattage output per square metre of land used.

They also have the advantage of being far smaller than propeller powered alternatives meaning they have less impact on landscape as well as being more robust, cheaper and are considered to be less dangerous wildlife.

There's a video showing how the turbines work.

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