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“Wind Lens” promises to solve two problems of traditional turbines – general inefficiency and noise pollution

Japan’s “wind lens” technology could mark departure from many years of nuclear reign

Wind farm model experiment in the large water tank at RIAMWind farm model experiment in the large water tank at RIAM

For decades we have seen advances in wind and solar energy technologies which bring us closer to the ideal of affordable, renewable green energy. But with each advance in technology there seem to be limitations which leave the green energy sector in ‘two steps forward, one step back’ mode. A new design for wind turbines, however, may be a green energy breakthrough which is simple enough to live up to its expectations.

Solar energy setbacks such as the recent Solyndra debacle are not only a loss for the individual company, but make funding all the more difficult for future solar energy development initiatives. While the cost of solar panels has been going down, to the benefit of individual homeowners, we are still a ways off from having solar energy significantly incorporated into the U.S. national power grid.

With wind energy, the latest unexpected setback has been the realization of the impact wind farms are having on migrating bird populations. The USDA is currently studying bald eagle ;deaths-by-wind-turbine’, and estimates of migrating bird mortality from wind turbines range from 50,000 to 450,000 birds per year, depending on the source. The American Bird Conservancy makes the case that mandatory federal operation standards are needed, and notes that recurring bird kills can be avoided when wind turbines are required to shut down during the migration season on nights where low visibility is predicted.

The recent development of the “wind lens” wind turbine design by Japanese researchers at Kyushu University addresses some of the limitations of wind turbines and renews hopes of a breakthrough in wind energy generation. The “wind lens” is an inward curving ring which surrounds the turbine’s blades as they rotate, creating a pocket of low pressure in front of the turbine. This has the effect of directing and accelerating the airflow as it enters the blade zone, effectively doubling or even tripling a wind turbine’s power output.

Researchers have determined the best location for the wind turbines is offshore where winds are stronger and more consistent. Located 20 – 40 kilometers offshore and tethered to the ocean floor, hexagonal-shaped platforms of wind lens wind turbines can float safely above tsunami swells and are not impacted by earthquakes. And the offshore locations can be situated away from established bird migratory routes.

With a working prototype now in operation, green energy proponents see a realistic model for providing low-impact renewable energy for the future.

The wind lens technology brings wind farms in line with the efficiency and output of nuclear power, and could provide a renewable source of energy that is cheaper and safer than nuclear power. In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdowns caused by the earthquake and tsunami, this technology may represent a viable future energy source for Japan, which has no fossil fuel generation resources and a nuclear power infrastructure that has been shown to be dangerously unreliable in the event of natural disasters.

In the US, wind turbines provided 40,180 MW of power last year, or 3.2% of total demand. Tripling that with wind lens technology would bring it up to 10%. Given the vast amount of land available for wind farms, the entire U.S. energy demand could be met with about 20% of its land-based wind energy potential. Since this would require an area of 170,000 square miles, about the size of California, it is not likely that even optimized wind turbines will become the sole energy providers of the future, but the wind lens breakthrough makes it more likely that wind power will assume a greater role in providing future energy needs with a clean, renewable energy source – the wind.

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Online Editorial, w3.windfair.net / Video Source: Science News
Trevor Sievert, Online Editorial Journalist

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