News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Smaller, Jet-Engine Turbines May Solve Some Wind Power Woes

Video still of a FloDesign test wind turbine | Photo: FloDesign

An enclosed wind turbine design that may be safer for wildlife and the public is almost ready for prime time, according to its manufacturers. FloDesign's enclosed wind turbines could also offer more efficient conversion of wind energy with turbines that are suitable for use in urban areas.

With technology borrowed from the jet engine industry, FloDesign's turbines consist of an aerodynamic sheath that channels wind energy into the turbine blades. As the blades are enclosed in the sheath, the risk of collision injuries with flying wildlife would likely be substantially reduced.

The blades' much shorter length means that blade throw incidents, like the one at the Ocotillo Wind Project that shuttered hundreds of turbines nationwide earlier this year, would be significantly reduced. And the turbines' small size relative to current huge models might mean that they'd be suitable for urban neighborhoods. That's assuming FloDesign can find some buyers.

Story Continues Below
Support KCET

FloDesigns' smaller turbines will produce a maximum of 100 kilowatts of power each, on towers about 150 feet tall -- a quarter the height of the newest turbines, and with blade enclosures that birds might actually be able to land on safely. Due to the their wind-concentrating design the turbines can be packed much more closely than the big three-bladed kind, meaning less land use per megawatt despite each turbine's smaller capacity. Imagine a line of turbines lining Interstate 5 through the Central Valley, safe enough for wildlife that red-tailed hawks can perch atop them with impunity.

That's the dream. Some critics have dismissed FloDesign's claims over the past few years as a lot of, well, wind. Still, the company's prototypes were persuasive enough to earn FloDesign an $8.3 million grant from the the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) four years ago. According to an extended profile in the September issue of FastCompany, The company has met or exceeded the technical milestones specified in the ARPA-E grant conditions, a distinction not all DoE renewables grant recipients can claim.

This video below explains some of the differences between FloDesign's technology and existing wind turbines. Some of the aerodynamic engineering terminology made ReWire's metaphoirical eyes glaze over a bit, but the basics are relatively straightforward.

FloDesign claims that its creative harnessing of wind energy allows much higher efficiency in generating power. "In our machine, a 2-mile-per-hour wind will be like a 4-mile-per-hour wind," FloDesign's cofounder Walter Presz told FastCompany. "A 10-mile-per-hour wind will look like a 20-mile-per-hour wind."

The company is getting ready to install 10 of its 100 kilowatt turbines in the Tehachapi area by the end of this year, and if those first turbines perform as expected, hundreds more will follow across the country next year.

Support ReWild, KCET's newest project about endangered species, by donating to our Kickstarter now!


So Much For Jobs? Startup Builds Solar Robot Workers


Report: Blythe Solar Would Have Serious Impacts On Cultural Resources

About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
RSS icon

Add Your Response