The next generation of giant wind turbines may go vertical

Traditional wind turbine designs are HAWT. You know, not hot hawt, but HAWT like a Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine." A HAWT design is what you probably think of when you picture a wind turbine (it's the thing that looks like a big propeller on a stick), but the next generation designs may be all about the VAWT, not the HAWT.

The HAWT design is simple and straightforward, which is why we've been using it for so long, but there are other ways to harvest free (to us) energy from wind, including VAWT designs, or Vertical Axis Wind Turbines. VAWTs differ from HAWTs in that a VAWT spins around at the base, which is where all of the complicated and heavy stuff (like the generator and gearbox) are located. This makes them easier to service, easier to deploy and much cheaper to maintain. The other big advantage of a VAWT is that you don't have to point them into the wind: you just set them out and they start spinning, no matter which way the wind is blowing.

There are a wide variety of VAWTs, including Wind Power Limited's X turbine concept pictured above, but one of the simplest is the Darrieus design, as shown in the graphic below. Sandia National Labs has been modeling comparisons between VAWTs and the traditional HAWT designs to try and figure out which type of turbine makes the most sense to build as demand for power increases and turbines scale to absurdly large sizes as a result.

vawt01.jpg

Sandia's research is only just beginning, but preliminary results suggest that while VAWTs offer substantial advantages, it's going to require some advances in materials science to make the huge curved blades that the most efficient VAWT designs require. However, as turbines scale up, blade costs become a smaller and smaller proportion of the overall cost, meaning that it's going to start to make sense to get away from the traditional horizontal designs in favor of something better and (most importantly) more futuristic looking.

Via Sandia

For the latest tech stories, follow DVICE on Twitter
at @dvice or find us on Facebook