Wind turbines, the successor to windmills, aren’t a terribly common sight in many parts of the world. In order for the machines to work, they need to have a healthy supply of windy weather. They can also be expensive to build and install, depending on what materials are used. Because it’s a form of alternative energy, they’re less popular in areas still dependent on coal or other sources. Sure, places like China and France lead the world, and you’re likely to see wind farms during US road trips, but harvesting the power of wind needs a shake-up to become prevalent.
Created by Professor Yuji Ohya of Kyushu University in Japan, the wind lens is a modified turbine made to be more efficient while simultaneously have less of an impact on humans and the environment. First revealed in 2010, the lens is still being developed and run through testing but is already considered a breakthrough in the scientific community. Studies conducted by the school indicate that the lens can produce two to five times more power than traditional turbines.
The wind lens looks almost identical to a traditional turbine, but with the addition of brimmed ring around the rotor. As a result, more air passes through, causing the greater power output. Because the only addition is the ring, it can be made to work with any existing turbine. Another perk is that the ring acts as a muffler, making the entire device quieter and less disruptive to everyday life.
There are a few main characteristics of the ring, referred to as a “brimmed diffuser” by Professor Ohya. It features yaw control that allows the turbine to be rotated to face the wind, like a weathervane. The entire turbine must be made to withstand the additional weight. The blades are also longer-lasting as the diffuser acts a shroud from the elements.
In an article written for Renewable Energy and Environmental Sustainability, Ohya and his team explain how they’ve been testing the wind lens. It began with a small cluster of turbines at Kyushu University, all of which proved to be successful. They then created a “floating energy farm” in Hakata Bay, Fukuoka. “One of the main goals of this experiment was to clarify the advantage of wind farming at offshore locations, even relatively short distances from the adjacent shore, with typical annual average wind speed in Japan.” The first offshore farm had a clear advantage of their on-land counterparts. Plans for a second floating farm were mentioned to be in development in the article.
One unique feature of the lens has is the ability to be used underwater. “We have recently shown the similar improvement in efficiency using a prototype of Water lens turbine using a water channel. This experiment is the first step towards the development of micro hydropower generation system [sic] and tidal current power generation system [being developed].” The lens does need to be adapted to be used in this way, of course, but it could produce similar boosts in power.
The wind lens doesn’t solve some of the underlying issues with wind power; namely, their usefulness in areas without heavy wind. But it does make them more efficient and powerful in places were such weather exists. While little is known about when wind lenses will be available outside of Kyushu University, scientists and news sources alike are excited about the development. The dependency on coal and fossil fuels to power our world is harmful. Wind, along with the sun and hydroelectric power, is the next wave of energy. And the more we can harness, the better for tomorrow.