60-Second Science

Wind Farmers Go to School on Fish

Designing wind farms with close packing of turbines, based on schooling fish, could greatly increase efficiency, say researchers at a meeting of the Division of Fluid Dynamics of the American Physical Society. Cynthia Graber reports

The use of wind power continues to soar around the world. In 2008 the U.S. actually surpassed Germany as the world’s top producer of energy from wind. It might seem that there aren’t many improvements to make to what’s essentially a passive technology. But researchers at the California Institute of Technology say the way fish school will help create more efficient designs for wind farms. They presented their research at a meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics.

When fish swim, they leave little swirling vortices in their wake. By swimming together in a school, they can transfer energy to one another through these vortices. Wind behaves much as a liquid does. So the engineers have taken wind turbines that spin on vertical axes—these are different from the traditional horizontal wind turbine mostly in use today. On a computer, they’ve positioned the turbines close enough together that as one spins, it then directs the wind to its neighbor.

According to the computer model, this design could increase wind farm efficiency a hundredfold. The next step for the researchers is to do a field test, trying out these fish dynamics on dry land.

—Cynthia Graber 

[The above text is an exact transcript of the audio in the podcast.]


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