Wind turbines can be separated into two basic types determined by which way the turbine spins. Wind turbines that rotate around a horizontal axis are more common (like a wind mill), while vertical axis wind turbines are less frequently used (Savonius and Darrieus), however, my personal favorite.
Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines (HAWT)
Horizontal axis wind turbines, also shortened to HAWT, are the common style that most of us think of when we think of a wind turbine. A HAWT has a similar design to a windmill, it has blades that look like a propeller that spin on the horizontal axis.
Horizontal axis wind turbines have the main rotor shaft and electrical generator at the top of a tower, and they must be pointed into the wind. Small turbines are pointed by a simple wind vane placed square with the rotor (blades), while large turbines generally use a wind sensor coupled with a servo motor. Most large wind turbines have a gearbox, which turns the slow rotation of the rotor into a faster rotation that is more suitable to drive an electrical generator.
Since a tower produces turbulence behind it, the turbine is usually pointed upwind of the tower. Wind turbine blades are made stiff to prevent the blades from being pushed into the tower by high winds. Additionally, the blades are placed a considerable distance in front of the tower and are sometimes tilted up a small amount.
Downwind machines have been built, despite the problem of turbulence, because they don't need an additional mechanism for keeping them in line with the wind, and because in high winds, the blades can be allowed to bend which reduces their swept area and thus their wind resistance. Since turbulence leads to fatigue failures, and reliability is so important, most HAWTs are upwind machines.
- The tall tower base allows access to stronger wind in sites with wind shear. In some wind shear sites, every ten meters up the wind speed can increase by 20% and the power output by 34%.
- High efficiency, since the blades always move perpendicularly to the wind, receiving power through the whole rotation. In contrast, all vertical axis wind turbines, and most proposed airborne wind turbine designs, involve various types of reciprocating actions, requiring airfoil surfaces to backtrack against the wind for part of the cycle. Backtracking against the wind leads to inherently lower efficiency.
- Massive tower construction is required to support the heavy blades, gearbox, and generator.
- Components of a horizontal axis wind turbine (gearbox, rotor shaft and brake assembly) being lifted into position.
- Their height makes them obtrusively visible across large areas, disrupting the appearance of the landscape and sometimes creating local opposition.
- Downwind variants suffer from fatigue and structural failure caused by turbulence when a blade passes through the tower's wind shadow (for this reason, the majority of HAWTs use an upwind design, with the rotor facing the wind in front of the tower).
- HAWTs require an additional yaw control mechanism to turn the blades toward the wind.
- HAWTs generally require a braking or yawing device in high winds to stop the turbine from spinning and destroying or damaging itself.
Cyclic stresses and vibration
When the turbine turns to face the wind, the rotating blades act like a gyroscope. As it pivots, gyroscopic precession tries to twist the turbine into a forward or backward somersault. For each blade on a wind generator's turbine, force is at a minimum when the blade is horizontal and at a maximum when the blade is vertical. This cyclic twisting can quickly fatigue and crack the blade roots, hub and axle of the turbines.
Verticalaxis wind turbines, as shortened to VAWTs, have the main rotor shaft arranged vertically. The main advantage of this arrangement is that the wind turbine does not need to be pointed into the wind. This is an advantage on sites where the wind direction is highly variable or has turbulent winds.
With a vertical axis, the generator and other primary components can be placed near the ground, so the tower does not need to support it, also makes maintenance easier. The main drawback of a VAWT generally create drag when rotating into the wind.
It is difficult to mount vertical-axis turbines on towers, meaning they are often installed nearer to the base on which they rest, such as the ground or a building rooftop. The wind speed is slower at a lower altitude, so less wind energy is available for a given size turbine. Air flow near the ground and other objects can create turbulent flow, which can introduce issues of vibration, including noise and bearing wear which may increase the maintenance or shorten its service life. However, when a turbine is mounted on a rooftop, the building generally redirects wind over the roof and this can double the wind speed at the turbine. If the height of the rooftop mounted turbine tower is approximately 50% of the building height, this is near the optimum for maximum wind energy and minimum wind turbulence.
Darrieus wind turbine
Darrieus wind turbines are commonly called "Eggbeater" turbines, because they look like a giant eggbeater. They have good efficiency, but produce large torque ripple and cyclic stress on the tower, which contributes to poor reliability. Also, they generally require some external power source, or an additional Savonius rotor, to start turning, because the starting torque is very low. The torque ripple is reduced by using three or more blades which results in a higher solidity for the rotor. Solidity is measured by blade area over the rotor area. Newer Darrieus type turbines are not held up by guy-wires but have an external superstructure connected to the top bearing.
Savonius wind turbine
A Savonius is a drag type turbine, they are commonly used in cases of high reliability in many things such as ventilation and anemometers. Because they are a drag type turbine they are less efficient than the common HAWT. Savonius are excellent in areas of turbulent wind and self starting.
- No yaw mechanisms is needed.
- A VAWT can be located nearer the ground, making it easier to maintain the moving parts.
- VAWTs have lower wind startup speeds than the typical the HAWTs.
- VAWTs may be built at locations where taller structures are prohibited.
- VAWTs situated close to the ground can take advantage of locations where rooftops, mesas, hilltops, ridgelines, and passes funnel the wind and increase wind velocity.
- Most VAWTs have a average decreased efficiency from a common HAWT, mainly because of the additional drag that they have as their blades rotate into the wind. Versions that reduce drag produce more energy, especially those that funnel wind into the collector area.
- Having rotors located close to the ground where wind speeds are lower due and do not take advantage of higher wind speeds above.
- Because VAWTs are not commonly deployed due mainly to the serious disadvantages mentioned above, they appear novel to those not familiar with the wind industry. This has often made them the subject of wild claims and investment scams over the last 50 years.
Next: How Wind Turbines Work