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Wind Turbines Take a Lesson From Lance Armstrong

from ScienceNOW Daily News

Arranging wind turbines like a school of fish could reduce the amount of land they take up by 100-fold while maintaining their electrical output, say researchers. Wind farms based on the approach might also be considerably safer for migrating birds.

Whether it's Lance Armstrong bicycling behind his teammates in the Tour de France or a storm of fish slicing their way through the ocean, animals benefit from drafting. The leader breaks through the calm air or water, while the followers enjoy the reduced resistance in the leader's wake.

The same doesn't hold true for horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWTs), the most common kind of windmill. Placing one HAWT in another's draft drastically reduces the efficiency of the trailing windmill. That's because the turbulent breeze created by the leading turbine's blades can't propel the trailing blades as well as an unobstructed airflow. So engineers spread the giant fans across hundreds of hectares of land--a practice that has created a backlash from people who find the turbines unsightly.

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