Vertical axis wind turbine

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The world's tallest vertical-axis wind turbine, in Cap-Chat, Quebec

Vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs) are a type of wind turbine where the main rotor shaft is set vertically and the main components are located at the base of the turbine. This arrangement allows the generator and gearbox to be located close to the ground, facilitating service and repair. VAWTs do not need to be pointed into the wind,[1] which removes the need for wind-sensing and orientation mechanisms. Major drawbacks for the early designs (Savonius, Darrieus and giromill) included the significant torque variation during each revolution, and the huge bending moments on the blades. Later designs solved the torque issue by providing helical twist in the blades.

A VAWT tipped sideways, with the axis perpendicular to the wind streamlines, functions similarly. A more general term that includes this option is "transverse axis wind turbine". For example, the original Darrieus patent, US Patent 1835018, includes both options.

Drag-type VAWTs such as the Savonius rotor typically operate at lower tipspeed ratios than lift-based VAWTs such as Darrieus rotors and cycloturbines.

General aerodynamics[edit]

The forces and the velocities acting in a Darrieus turbine are depicted in figure 1. The resultant velocity vector, \vec{W}, is the vectorial sum of the undisturbed upstream air velocity, \vec{U}, and the velocity vector of the advancing blade, -\vec{\omega }\times\vec{R}.

\vec{W}=\vec{U}+\left( -\vec{\omega }\times\vec{R} \right)

Fig1: Forces and velocities acting in a Darrieus turbine for various azimuthal positions
Five-kilowatt vertical axis wind turbine

Thus the oncoming fluid velocity varies during each cycle. Maximum velocity is found for \theta =0{}^\circ and the minimum is found for \theta =180{}^\circ , where \theta is the azimuthal or orbital blade position. The angle of attack, \alpha , is the angle between the oncoming air speed, W, and the blade's chord. The resultant airflow creates a varying, positive angle of attack to the blade in the upstream zone of the machine, switching sign in the downstream zone of the machine.

From geometrical considerations, the resultant airspeed flow and the angle of attack are calculated as follows:

W=U\sqrt{1+2\lambda \cos \theta +\lambda ^{2}}

\alpha =\tan ^{-1}\left( \frac{\sin \theta }{\cos \theta +\lambda } \right)[2]

where \lambda =\frac{\omega R}{U} is the tip speed ratio parameter.

The resultant aerodynamic force is resolved either into lift (F_L) - drag (D) components or normal (N) - tangential (T) components. The forces are considered acting at the quarter-chord point, and the pitching moment is determined to resolve the aerodynamic forces. The aeronautical terms "lift" and "drag" refer to the forces across (lift) and along (drag) the approaching net relative airflow. The tangential force acts along the blade's velocity, pulling the blade around, and the normal force acts radially, pushing against the shaft bearings. The lift and the drag force are useful when dealing with the aerodynamic forces around the blade such as dynamic stall, boundary layer etc.; while when dealing with global performance, fatigue loads, etc., it is more convenient to have a normal-tangential frame. The lift and the drag coefficients are usually normalised by the dynamic pressure of the relative airflow, while the normal and tangential coefficients are usually normalised by the dynamic pressure of undisturbed upstream fluid velocity.

C_{L}=\frac{F_L}{{1}/{2}\;\rho AW^{2}}\text{     };\text{     }C_{D}=\frac{D}{{1}/{2}\;\rho AW^{2}}\text{      };\text{      }C_{T}=\frac{T}{{1}/{2}\;\rho AU^{2}R}\text{      };\text{     }C_{N}=\frac{N}{{1}/{2}\;\rho AU^{2}}

A = Surface Area R = Radius of turbine

The amount of power, P, that can be absorbed by a wind turbine:

 P=\frac{1}{2}C_{p}\rho A\nu^{3}

Where C_{p} is the power coefficient, \rho is air density, A is the swept area of the turbine, and \nu is the wind speed.[3]

Advantages of vertical axis wind turbines[edit]

VAWTs offer a number of advantages over traditional horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWTs). They can be packed closer together in wind farms, allowing more in a given space. They are quiet, omni-directional, and they produce lower forces on the support structure. They do not require as much wind to generate power, thus allowing them to be closer to the ground where windspeed is lower. By being closer to the ground they are easily maintained and can be installed on chimneys and similar tall structures.[4]

Research at Caltech has also shown that carefully designing wind farms using VAWTs can result in power output ten times as great as a HAWT wind farm the same size.[5]

VAWTs are much quieter than HAWTs, with dB levels at ground level ten meters from the tower measured at around 95 dB for a HAWT[citation needed] – the sound of passing traffic on a busy highway measured from the road shoulder – versus 38dB for a VAWT[citation needed] – the sound of whispered conversation. This is due to several factors, starting with the much lower tip speed of VAWTs.

Disadvantages of vertical axis wind turbines[edit]

VAWTs have a tendency to stall under gusty winds. They produce very low starting torque, and exhibit dynamic stability problems. The VAWTs are sensitive to off-design conditions and have a low installation height limiting operation to lower wind speed environments.[6]

The blades of a VAWT are prone to fatigue due to the wide variation in applied forces during each rotation. The vertically oriented blades used in early models twisted and bent during each turn, causing them to crack. Over time the blades broke apart, sometimes leading to catastrophic failure. Because of these problems, VAWTs have proven less reliable than HAWTs.[7]

Research programmes (in 2011) sought to overcome the inefficiencies associated with VAWTs by optimising turbine placement within wind farms. It is thought that, despite the lower wind-speed environment at low elevations, "the scaling of the physical forces involved predicts that [VAWT] wind farms can be built using less expensive materials, manufacturing processes, and maintenance than is possible with current wind turbines".[8]


The Windspire, a small VAWT intended for individual (home or office) use was developed in the early 2000s by US company Mariah Power. The company reported that several units had been installed across the US by June 2008.[9]

Arborwind, an Ann-Arbor (Michigan, US) based company, produces a patented small VAWT which has been installed at several US locations as of 2013.[10]

In 2011, Sandia National Laboratories wind-energy researchers began a five-year study of applying VAWT design technology to offshore wind farms.[11] The researchers stated: "The economics of offshore windpower are different from land-based turbines, due to installation and operational challenges. VAWTs offer three big advantages that could reduce the cost of wind energy: a lower turbine center of gravity; reduced machine complexity; and better scalability to very large sizes. A lower center of gravity means improved stability afloat and lower gravitational fatigue loads. Additionally, the drivetrain on a VAWT is at or near the surface, potentially making maintenance easier and less time-consuming. Fewer parts, lower fatigue loads and simpler maintenance all lead to reduced maintenance costs."

A 24-unit VAWT demonstration plot was installed in southern California in the early 2010s by Caltech aeronautical professor John Dabiri. His design was incorporated in a 10-unit generating farm installed in 2013 in the Alaskan village of Igiugig.[12]

Dulas, Anglesey received permission in March 2014 to install a prototype VAWT on the breakwater at Port Talbot waterside. The turbine is a new design, supplied by Wales-based C-FEC (Swansea),[13] and will be operated for a two-year trial.[14] This VAWT incorporates a wind shield which blocks the wind from the advancing blades, and thus requires a wind-direction sensor and a positioning mechanism, as opposed to the "egg-beater" types of VAWTs discussed above.[15]

The Dynasphere, is Michael Reynolds' (from Earthship fame) 4th generation vertical axis windmill. These windmills have two 1.5 KW generators and can produce electricity at very low speeds. [16]


  1. ^ Jha, Ph.D., A.R. (2010). Wind turbine technology. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press
  2. ^ Amina El Kasmi, Christian Masson, An extended k-epsilon model for turbulent flow through horizontal-axis wind turbines, Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics, Volume 96, Issue 1, January 2008, Pages 103-122, retrieved 2010-04-26 
  3. ^ Sandra Eriksson, Hans Bernhoff, Mats Leijon, (June 2008), "Evaluation of different turbine concepts for wind power", Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 12 (5): 1419–1434, doi:10.1016/j.rser.2006.05.01, ISSN 1364-0321, retrieved 2010-04-26 
  4. ^ Steven Peace, Another Approach to Wind, retrieved 2010-04-26 
  5. ^ Kathy Svitil, Wind-turbine placement produces tenfold power increase, researchers say, retrieved 2012-07-31 
  6. ^ Jha, Ph.D., A.R. (2010). Wind turbine technology. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press
  7. ^ Chiras, D. (2010). Wind power basics: a green energy guide. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Pub.
  8. ^
  9. ^ [1] C-NET, "Vertical-axis wind turbine spins into business" (2 June 2008)
  10. ^ [2] Arborwind (website), "History"
  11. ^ [3] Renewable Energy World, August 2012, "Offshore Use of Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines Gets A Closer Look"
  12. ^ [4] Technology Review, "Will Vertical Turbines Make More of the Wind?"
  13. ^ [5] C-FEC (website)
  14. ^ [6] Renewable Energy Focus (website), 05 March 2014
  15. ^ [7] C-FEC (website), "Turbine"
  16. ^

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