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Published March 30, 2015 | Published
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A new approach to wind energy: Opportunities and challenges


Despite common characterizations of modern wind energy technology as mature, there remains a persistent disconnect between the vast global wind energy resource—which is 20 times greater than total global power consumption—and the limited penetration of existing wind energy technologies as a means for electricity generation worldwide. We describe an approach to wind energy harvesting that has the potential to resolve this disconnect by geographically distributing wind power generators in a manner that more closely mirrors the physical resource itself. To this end, technology development is focused on large arrays of small wind turbines that can harvest wind energy at low altitudes by using new concepts of biology-inspired engineering. This approach dramatically extends the reach of wind energy, as smaller wind turbines can be installed in many places that larger systems cannot, especially in built environments. Moreover, they have lower visual, acoustic, and radar signatures, and they may pose significantly less risk to birds and bats. These features can be leveraged to attain cultural acceptance and rapid adoption of this new technology, thereby enabling significantly faster achievement of state and national renewable energy targets than with existing technology alone. Favorable economics stem from an orders-of-magnitude reduction in the number of components in a new generation of simple, mass-manufacturable (even 3D-printable), vertical-axis wind turbines. However, this vision can only be achieved by overcoming significant scientific challenges that have limited progress over the past three decades. The following essay summarizes our approach as well as the opportunities and challenges associated with it, with the aim of motivating a concerted effort in basic and applied research in this area.

Additional Information

© 2015 AIP Publishing LLC. Published: 30 March 2015. The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Science Foundation.

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August 20, 2023