Bizarre-looking wind turbine generates five times more energy than its peers

Render of Wind Catching Systems' futuristic looking wind turbine
Rendered image of Wind Catching Systems' bizarre-looking wind turbine

A radical new wind turbine design is capable of generating five times the annual energy of the world’s largest, single wind turbine.

Norwegian company Wind Catching Systems is developing a floating, multi-turbine technology with an innovative design that reinvents the way wind farms look and perform, Fast Company reports.

Unlike traditional wind turbine designs, which consist of one pole and three blades, the Wind Catcher comprises a square grid with 100 small blades. At 1,000 feet high, the system is over three times as tall as an average wind turbine, and it stands on a floating platform that’s anchored to the ocean floor. The company is planning to build a prototype next year. If it succeeds, the Wind Catcher could revolutionise the way we harness wind power.

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“Traditional wind farms are based on the old Dutch windmills,” Wind Catching Systems CEO Ole Heggheim said.

“These wind farms work well on land, but why is it that when you have something that works on land, you should do the same thing on water?”

Traditional offshore wind farms require each turbine to be driven into the seabed, so they can’t be installed in waters deeper than 200 feet. As a result, wind farms can’t be built farther than about 20 miles away from shore, which limits their performance potential since the winds are stronger farther out into the ocean.

Floating wind farms, however, can be tethered to the seabed with thick mooring lines, allowing them to operate in waters more than 3,000 feet deep.

Wind Catching Systems claims that one Wind Catcher unit could power up between 80,000 and 100,000 European households. In ideal conditions, where the wind is at its strongest, one wind catcher unit could produce up to 400GWh of energy. By comparison, Vestas’ V236-15.0 MW wind turbine—the most powerful on the market right now—produces up to 80GWh.

Why? Well, the Wind Catcher is taller—approaching the height of the Eiffel Tower—which exposes the rotor blades to higher wind speeds. Secondly, smaller blades perform better. Heggheim explains that traditional turbines are 120 feet long and usually max out at a certain wind speed. By comparison, the Wind Catcher’s blades are 50 feet long and can perform more rotations per minute, therefore generating more energy.

Because the blades are smaller, the whole system is easier to manufacture, build and maintain. Heggheim says it has a design lifespan of 50 years, which is twice as much as traditional wind turbines, and when some parts need to be replaced (or during annual inspections), an integrated elevator system will offer easy maintenance.

“If you have one single turbine and you need to change the blade, you have to stop the whole operation,” Wind Catching Systems CGO Ronny Karlsen said.

“We have 126 individual turbines, so if we need to change the blade, we can stop one turbine.”

Another advantage is when the system reaches the end of its life, much of it can be recycled. Many traditional wind turbines have reached their design lifespan and blades the size of a Boeing 747 wing are piling up in landfills. They’re also better for bird life, being positioned so far offshore that coastal bird life is unlikely to be affected.

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Not only are the Wind Catcher blades smaller, but they’re also made of aluminum, which, unlike the fiberglass used for larger turbines, is entirely recyclable.

Plans for a prototype to be built in the North Sea in Norway or the UK are in the works. After that, the company is looking at California and Japan.

“Those have good wind resources near the shore and the governments are supportive and already starting to award acreage for developments,” Karlsen said.