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If Bigger Wind Turbines are Better, then Why Go Smaller?

CalTech Vertical Wind Turbines Testing in Southern California
CalTech Vertical Wind Turbines Testing in Southern California

Recent developments in blade technology and turbine size have proven that bigger is better when it comes to wind turbine costs, efficiency and overall power output.

This is true, for the most part, and wind energy is becoming cheaper per kWh than even fossil fuels in some areas. By increasing blade length, and therefore the swept area of the turbine, the biggest wind turbines in the world measure their output in megawatts each.

All the wind farms in Spain generate more than 6,000GWh monthly. On a large scale, this kind of wind farm makes perfect sense, and no one doubts the efficiency and power of these giant wind turbine installations, but what about on a small scale or in a remote area?

John Dabiri is a professor of aeronautical and bioengineering at CalTech, and he proposes that, for smaller installations, smaller is the way to go. The US Department of Defense has even given him a $1 million grant to develop a small-scale vertical wind turbine array that could be used on military bases because they don’t interfere with radar and aircraft.

The demonstration was already been started in Southern California, but will be put to the test now in a small village in Alaska. The first ten turbines have already been installed, and the final array should have between fifty and seventy. The total vertical wind turbine array ought to produce as much energy as the diesel generators that Iguigig currently generate.

Dabiri suggests that vertical wind turbines will be easier to manufacture and install in such a remote location. They are only 30ft high, and because the generator is at the base, it is easier to access for maintenance and repairs. By using computer modeling, each of the wind turbines can be placed in the optimal area to be boosted by the turbine in front of it. While each wind turbine on its own isn’t particularly powerful, an array of vertical wind turbines could be more efficient than conventional types.

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