Nothing yet, but John O. Dabiri, a fluid-dynamics expert at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) may change that. His studies of schooling fish have inspired new ideas for wind farm layouts. As an associate professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at Caltech, Dabiri says he’s interested in developing better ways of harnessing wave and wind energy as power sources. “I was inspired by observations of schooling fish, and the suggestion that there is constructive hydrodynamic interference between the wakes of neighboring fish,” he says. In these observations, Dabiri noticed some of the vortices left behind by fish swimming in a school rotate clockwise, while others rotate counter-clockwise. He realized this could have relevance to wind farms, which are commonly hampered by a lack of space.
The large-rotor horizontal-axis wind turbines require a substantial amount of land to perform properly. Vertical turbines, in contrast, can be placed on smaller plots in a denser pattern. Dabiri and colleagues determined that placing vertical-axis turbines in arrays with certain strategic configurations might let the turbines work more efficiently as a result of their relationship to others around them—just as in schools of fish. Such configurations of vertical turbines are currently being put to the test on an experimental wind farm under construction in the high desert north of Los Angeles.
This has earned him a MacArthur Fellowship, which comes with a five-year, $500,000 “no strings attached” grant. Each year, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awards the unrestricted fellowships—also known as “genius” grants—to individuals who show “exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future,” according to the Foundation.
Similar ideas are being put to use by other companies. Curious readers might also be interested in: What about all that wind near the ground?
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