VAWTs with HAWTs


The energy available in the wind is the cube of the wind speed. This physical law means creating small increases in wind speed will result in significant increases in a wind turbine’s energy output.

This fundamental physical law drives project developers to invest in high wind resource sites and to place their turbines where they can harvest the highest velocity wind. It also drives the importance of researching how Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWTs) can be positioned to increase the wind speeds realized by Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines (HAWTs).

A key maintenance and repair difference between VAWTs and HAWTs is that HAWT blades send the vibrations caused by turbulence in the wind to the drive train, causing harmful wear and tear to the bearings and gearbox.[1]  Near-ground wind is turbulent, a fundamental reason HAWTs are installed high above the ground. This does, however, leave wind farms with good near-ground wind resources, such as those with hills, ridgelines or mesas, or those set in passes, with an untapped, valuable resource that no HAWT can harvest.

If VAWTs can be installed below and around HAWTs without causing any harmful wake or turbulence to HAWT blades, then the understories of wind farms can be developed. If arrays of counter-rotating VAWTs also are able to increase the wind speeds that reach the HAWT rotors above them, the economics and incentives to build out these unharvested resources improve.

Capacity Factor Enhancement

A 1-MW project operating at full power all 8760 hours in a year would produce 8760 MWhs of energy and achieve a 100% Capacity Factor (CF).  Most wind farms operate with a CF of 25-35% and produce only 2200-3000 MWhs annually per installed MW. (1)

Including VAWTs among the HAWTs without triggering the need for additional substation capacity is called Capacity Factor Enhancement (CFE). The number of VAWTs that could profitably be installed in such a project depends on:

  • The wind speeds at the site and the power performance curves of the HAWTs and VAWTs.
  • The wear and tear on the HAWTs and the economic benefits of resting them during high wind events.
  • The Power Purchase Agreement for the energy produced, including time of day production bonuses.
  • The estimated annual VAWT production that would be lost during high wind speed events when (if) all HAWTs are operating at full capacity.
  • The VAWT project savings that come from not having to invest in new land, roads, and infrastructure.
  • The potential increase in wind speeds and Capacity Factors that could be realized by HAWTs when VAWTs are installed strategically nearby.

Research and pilot studies will be important to accurately size CFE projects and determine the best way to increase the Capacity Factors of existing wind farms with new VAWTs.   WHI has submitted a Research and Development proposal in response to the CEC EPIC Program’s grant opportunity GFO-16-310 - Improving Performance and Cost Effectiveness of Wind Energy Technologies. The R&D project is titled “Researching and developing the potential of VAWTs to double capacities of California’s wind resource regions while preventing harm to birds – Phase I”.  This would be a foundational study upon which  more research on more site-specific proposed CFE projects can be built.

We are interested in hearing from wind farm owners and others interested in how VAWTs could be used in CFE projects.  Let us know your thoughts at

Porous Wind Fence Effect

Wind fences (aka windrows or windbreaks) “slow the wind in one place by deflecting it to another”[1] and thus reduce the wind speed immediately downwind. Generations of land owners have used windbreaks and wind fences to protect their crops and prevent erosion, but it is only recently that science has been brought to bear on the details of the wind flow patterns they create.

Different porosities of a windbreak will affect the wind speed over its top and downwind (see Figure 1). Note that the highest speed-up zone is above and slightly downwind of the “fence.” A row of VAWTs is similar to a row of trees, except the porosity of the VAWTs is significantly higher.[2] With a highly porous “fence” of VAWTs, Dr. Marius Paraschiviou predicts that the speed-up effect will occur nearly directly above a 2-4m zone of high turbulence located immediately above the rotating blade tips.[3]

Though Dr. Paraschiviou predicts a speed-up effect above the row of VAWTs, its location and how far it will extend requires field data to validate and model.  WHI proposes to use Doppler LiDAR, calibrated in the field with sonic anemometers, to collect high quality wind-speed data immediately above the row of VAWTs.

This field research will provide the data needed to validate a wind simulation models that will be able to predict how VAWT arrays of differing solidity and in different configurations could be optimized to create increases in the wind speeds that reach HAWT blades and thus increase their energy output.

The fact that a “fence” of VAWTs increases the wind speed over their tops creates another opportunity of benefit to HAWTs—that increased wind speed creates a zone of lower air pressure. When that  zone reaches up into the space directly downwind of the lower sweep of HAWT blades, the differential between the front and back of the HAWT increases and so should the wind speed through its rotor. A setup of two rows of VAWTs around the base of a HAWT, as shown in the figure to the right, may not be possible in some sites where it would interfere with HAWT crane access for repairs. It is an example of how VAWTs could be placed both geographically and vertically to maximize the often narrow space available on ridges, where near-ground wind shear can disappear, and winds at 10m above ground level (agl) can achieve speeds at at 30- 80m agl.


Vertical Mixing

All objects in the landscape, including VAWTs, create obstacles that block the wind, forcing it to change direction, speed up and swirl around them. When VAWT rotors are in motion, they create three types of downwind wake and turbulence:  blade-shed vortices, blade tip-shed vortices, and shear-layer turbulence. This complex flow can increase the wind speeds realized by HAWTs and allow the next row of VAWTs to be placed much closer downwind of another row of VAWTs.

During his years of working on wind farms, Bob Thomas observed the vertical mixing that HAWTs were creating in the San Gorgonio Pass and hypothesized that the addition of VAWTs in the “bush-tree” formation would  increase that mixing and bring faster-moving wind into HAWT rotors.

In recent years, a growing body of field data and research, led in large part by Dr. John O Dabiri, has demonstrated how counter rotating VAWTs, when placed upwind of HAWTs throughout a wind farm, would bring higher, faster-moving wind down into the rotors of HAWTs. [1]

"For the vertical axis wind turbines, what you get, especially as you place them in close transverse proximity to each other, is that they can actually interact positively," Dr. Ann Craig said. "Although it is still an active area of research, we think that the VAWTs can have blockage effects causing speedup around the turbines that helps downstream turbines. They can also have vertical wind mixing in the turbine's wake region, which assists in the wind velocity recovery."[2]

Arrays of closely spaced VAWTs enhance vertical mixing mainly due to the vortices of swirling wind produced by their blades that are moving much faster than the wind, as well as by shear-layer turbulence induced by wind flowing over the closely spaced VAWTs in an array. The large, vertically oriented vortices that spin off at the back of the rotating blades produce a low-pressure zone at their center that sucks in higher pressure air from above or below. This, along with the shear-layer turbulence, creates vertical mixing of the layers of slower- and faster-moving wind at different altitudes.

Though the basic physics of vertical mixing are relatively well understood, research will be needed to confirm that VAWT arrays won’t cause harmful turbulence to reach the HAWT blades and damage their bearings and drive trains. Wind farm owners and managers will want solid science based "proof" that VAWTs won't cause the repair costs of HAWTs to increase.  This can be proven using LiDAR and sonic anemometers to validate CFD modeling. For more information on WHI's research proposal to accomplish  this, see Phase I research, below.

Phase 1 Research

Researching and developing the potential of VAWTs to double the capacities of wind farms while preventing harm to birds and bats
WHI presented this proposal to the California Energy Commission EPIC Program on June 20, 2017.   In September, the awards were announced, and 18 of 19 applications, including WHI's, failed to qualify.

WHI wants to conduct research on the effects of integrating VAWTs into existing and new wind farms. Before such developments would be acceptable, field verification is needed to ensure that these straight-bladed, vertically spinning turbines do not create wake and turbulence that damage HAWTs above and downwind of them. Where wind farms include habitat of rare and endangered birds, then third-party collected data will be needed to demonstrate either that the VAWTs won’t harm these species or that they can be operated safely when these birds and bats are in their vicinity.

In response to the CEC’s EPIC Program 2017 grant opportunity “Improving Performance and Cost Effectiveness of Wind Energy Technologies," WHI presented an application that used Doppler LiDAR, sonic anemometers and computational fluid dynamics Large Eddy Simulations (CFD LES) to map out and model the wake and turbulence that result from closely spaced pairs of WHI’s G168 VAWTs.

The R&D project included DTBird detection and video recording technology that can rapidly and inexpensively increase the data on what happens when birds and bats are in the vicinity of VAWTs. This first round of basic research conducted with a field "mortality study" should lead to a solid understanding of how birds and bats in Solano County react to operating arrays of VAWTs.

Schematic of LiDAR vertical scanning geometry for near wake measurements. Not drawn to scale.

In September 2017, the CEC completed its review of WHI's and 18 other applications and determined that only one, a proposal to make less expensive ultra-tall (140m) towers for HAWTs, scored high enough to pass and be awarded funds. Two other proposals advancing VAWTs  for wind farms were made but received lower scores than WHI's.

WHI is working to proceed on the R&D in a more limited way, at least until more grants or funds become available. It is seeking partners in the Emigh Wind Energy R&D project to  be conducted on a ranch north of Hwy. 12, adjacent to the Solano Wind Resource Area (WRA) in Northern California. First, a pair of G168 VAWTs, followed by another pair, would be installed in 2018 to create a 280kW four-VAWT array.

The area north of Hwy 12 to Dixon has a height restriction, preventing the installation of turbines with blade tips exceeding 100 feet above ground level because of aviation concerns of nearby Travis Air Force Base. Nearly 100 square miles of some of the windiest land in California could be opened up to many rows of VAWTs that can easily keep the tops of their blades below 100 feet above ground level.

The objectives of the proposed R&D project include:

  1. Collect power performance, energy production, acoustic and other data to certify a pair of counter-rotating G168 VAWTs set one meter apart in an array. When the array expands to four turbines wide, measure if there are any changes in the data of the original pair of VAWTs.
  2.  Use the DTBird motion detection and recording technology and field mortality studies conducted by UC Davis interns under  the supervision of Garcia and Associates to collect 24/7 data on and analyze how birds and bats living in or migrating through the area interact with G168 VAWT arrays.
  3. Use Doppler LiDAR and 3-D sonic anemometers to produce the data needed for both an empirical analysis and  modeling of how wind speed and turbulence change after moving around, over, through and downwind of these 70 kW H-Type VAWTs.
  4. Make the data publicly available so that universities, wind simulation companies, and the wind industry in general can use the data in their own models and help advance the knowledge of how VAWT placement can most effectively improve HAWT performance.
  5. Use the data collected directly above the array to measure the "porous wind fence" speed-up effect. Calculate the additional energy production that could result with such an arrangement when placed beneath HAWTs of different sizes and heights above the ground.
  6. Hire Dr. Sanjiva Lele's lab to use the data in the Large Eddy Simulation CFD model to create a more sophisticated and accurate way to predict how VAWT configurations affect wake and turbulence,
  7. Use the data and modeling to show wind farm owners where VAWTs could be safely placed in their wind farms. Then proceed with Phase II research to verify that VAWT-HAWT combined wake and turbulence won't harm downwind turbines.

Project Team
WHI was pleased to have assembled an excellent team of scientists to collaborate on this proposal.

Drs. Craig Clements and Neil Lareau, San Jose State University, LiDAR

Joe Drennan and Eric Jepsen, Garcia and Associates, bird research

Dr. Sanjiva Lele, Stanford University, CFD Large Eddy Simulation Modeling

Kevin Wolf, Chief Operating Officer, WHI, and Project Manager

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