Wind farms are a key source of sustainable energy and a vital weapon in the fight against climate change. But while they help to reduce humanity's carbon footprint, conventional turbine designs can have a significant impact on bird populations.
According to estimates, standard two and three-blade turbines cause anywhere between 140,000-500,000 bird deaths every year in the US alone. Operators use technology to mitigate that risk – from cameras and acoustic deterrents to advanced avian radar. And now, with the invention of bladeless turbines, they have another tool at their disposal.
But just how practical and scalable is this new technology? In this article, we take a closer look at one of the leading manufacturers: Vortex Bladeless.
How do Bladeless Wind Turbines Work?
The Vortex Bladeless is a “vortex induced vibration (VIV) resonant wind generator”. It converts wind power into energy by harnessing an aerodynamic phenomenon known as vortex shedding.
As the wind blows, the turbine's cylindrical mast oscillates with the motion of the wind – a bit like a free-standing punching bag. The internal alternator system then converts the vibrations into an electrical current.
At 3 metres tall, the Vortex Bladeless is considerably shorter than conventional turbines which can comfortably exceed 75 metres (or 250 feet) in height. It's also built from lightweight materials, which allows it to adapt quickly to changes in wind direction and velocity.
Many species struggle to perceive the individual blades of traditional wind turbines due to motion blur, which can lead to fatal collisions. Removing blades eliminates that threat. Bladeless designs like Vortex also have a smaller, ‘less aggressive’ range of movement than conventional turbines, further reducing the chance of collision.
Reducing Noise Pollution
Noise pollution is often cited as one of the biggest drawbacks of wind turbines. With no blades and no internal mechanical components to drive them, bladeless turbines are almost completely noiseless.
Lower Maintenance Costs
It costs approximately $15,000 to repair a turbine blade – twice as much for offshore wind farms – while new blades cost $200,000 on average. Maintaining bladeless turbines is inherently cheaper because operators don’t have to worry about maintaining the internal mechanism or replacing the blades.
Limited Energy Capacity
Despite the potential benefits, bladeless turbines have one major drawback: they're far less efficient at generating energy.
At present, even the most advanced bladeless turbines can only generate a fraction of the power of more conventional designs. The Vortex Bladeless, for example, has a maximum capacity of 100-200 kilowatts. By contrast, conventional wind turbines have an average capacity of 3 megawatts.
You would need to install up to 30 bladeless turbines to produce the same amount of energy as a single three-bladed turbine. And this makes them an unsuitable alternative for wind farm operators.
Because of these limitations, Vortex inventor David Yáñez envisions bladeless technology working alongside traditional wind farms, rather than replacing them outright.
“Our technology has different characteristics which can help to fill the gaps where traditional wind farms might not be appropriate”.
These gaps include urban or residential areas where space is at a premium.
Why Radar is Still the Best Bet for Wind Farms
For environmentally-conscious wind farm operators, proven technologies like avian radar are still the most effective solutions for reducing collisions.
Avian radars collect data over a wide area, allowing you to monitor and track bird activity around your turbines in real-time. They provide 24/7 coverage and are effective even in low-visibility environments, including dense fog or heavy rain.
The most advanced systems can also initiate an automatic shutdown of a single turbine or an entire group if the number of birds within range of your wind farm crosses a designated threshold. This allows you to minimise bird deaths and operational downtime.
Finding the Solution that's Right for You
Finding the right solution for you depends on your needs and often requires more than a single system. In most cases, the best coverage requires a combination of systems that includes radar, cameras, and other monitoring equipment.
This gives you the best possible coverage, so you can continue to generate clean energy while minimising the impact of your operations on wildlife.