GO GO gadget arms!
Turbines could soon sport blades that extend and retract to suit wind conditions.
Large turbines harvest more energy from the wind than small ones – provided the breeze doesn’t freshen too much. Then long blades become a disadvantage as they exert big stresses on the turbine’s mechanism, which can damage it. So turbine designers generally strike a compromise between efficiency and durability.
What about a wind turbine with telescopic arms? Rajnish Sharma of the University of Auckland in New Zealand calculated that such a turbine could generate twice as much power over a year as an ordinary one, and be safe to run at high wind speeds. To test the idea, he built a prototype based on a small 1.5-kilowatt turbine. In strong winds it generated the same power as a standard turbine, while in gentler conditions it easily beat its rival.
The extendable blades cost more to make, though Sharma calculates they would be cost-effective even if they were four times as expensive as ordinary ones.
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