Wind turbines. I’m a big fan and so are they. (I’m sorry. Please keep reading.)
Or I was anyway, until I learned that they’re not all big fans. In fact, lurking in the unknown of alternative wind energy, there are some wind turbines that look nothing like fans at all. Does that mean that my opener is no longer funny? Maybe it never was.
One thing I know for sure is that some of these things are weird. Like if your run-of-the-mill wind turbine was a fish, these would be one of those creepy amorphous things people find by accident at the bottom of the ocean.
So, because everyone loves a tenuous link, you’re about to read my deep dive (so to speak) into the unknown of new-age wind harnessing electricity generators – and the deep-sea creatures they remind me of.
Vertical axis wind turbines
Vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs) have blades that are connected to the shaft in two places. When the wind blows, they rotate around it. Because of the double connection, many VAWT styles have longer blades than conventional wind turbines. The gearbox is also conveniently located on or near to ground level.
The words ‘long’ and ‘ground level’ were enough for me to make my first aquatic comparison – the Japanese Giant Spider Crab. They trawl the deep-sea floor and have the greatest leg span of any arthropod – up to 5.5m from claw to claw, a length I can comfortably say I’m not okay with.
High altitude wind turbines
One day, someone out there decided to get a turbine, and put it in the sky. Not with a mast (which has been done *yawn*), but with a blimp that they sent 2000 feet in the air. It’s controlled from ground stations by extending and retracting cables to catch the best wind.
And if there’s one creature that knows the energy benefits of extending your reach, it’s the goblin shark. It has an extendable jaw, so designed to eat large prey in an instant. Sorry about your nightmares.
Shrouded wind turbines
These are smaller wind turbines that use a funnel-like system to speed up the wind as it approaches the blades, the theory being that they can still be effective when wind is lighter.
The whole contraption is sort of like a regular wind turbine with a beautiful shroud. Which led me to think of the Vampire Squid who uses a cloak (which I will defend as a type of shroud) to cover its body when disturbed. Like the fan, it’s small too, at just 30cm. Unlike the fan, it dazzles potential predators by excreting bioluminescent particles.
These work by tethering a kite to a platform with a rotor that spins and generates energy as the kite flies away. A little energy is used to bring the kite back in, and the process starts again.
The way I see it, (and for the purpose of making this article work) kites look a lot like jellyfish. What you’re looking at here is the Atolla jellyfish, who uses bioluminescence to set off flashes when attacked. It doesn’t do this to stun or disorient its predator, though. Nope – it’s to attract larger prey to take care of the problem for it, which is exactly the kind of roguish deep-sea law I am here for.
The Hummingbird by Tyer Wind has two blades which rotate in a figure 8, like the wings of its namesake. It’s still in testing phase, but creators are hoping to mimic the energy-efficient shape and motion of the hummingbird wings to maximise energy output.
In my sea critter research I stumbled across the ghost shark, whose likeness to the Hummingbird is arguably far less tenuous than some of my other comparisons. Because there it was, swimming along with fins that (in both shape and movement) almost look to be hummingbird-inspired too.
‘Let’s harness the wind power of typhoons!’ said one scientist who obviously isn’t afraid of anything. It’s similar to the vertical axis wind turbine, only built with the hostile environment of typhoons in mind.
Speaking of hostile, did you know there are vents on the ocean floor that shoot out volcanically-heated water? That’s where Giant Tube Worms hang out. These guys don’t even have digestive systems – they get the bacteria living inside their bodies to produce food for them. So yeah, I’d back them in a typhoon, too.
Windstalk conceptual generator
Conceptual is the key word here. None of these exist but the idea (work with me here) is a whole bunch of stalks that reach into the sky like a giant skinny branchless forest. The stalks are full of electrodes that create a current as the wind causes them to bend and release. They also have lights at the top that get brighter the stronger the wind blows, which is very cute.
Less cute – but also with its own glowing part – is the Viperfish. Lurking in depths of 200 to 1000 meters, its underside is covered in lights called photophores that attract prey. And if we’re talking physical similarities, let’s not skip past its teeth. Because they are the biggest teeth relative to head size of any fish on earth. They are long and spindly, not unlike the windstalks.
I accept that there is an obvious flaw with this comparison. Windstalks: soothing. Viperfish: literal nightmare fodder.
If you enjoy the smooth rotation of a classic wind turbine, the Windbeam is not for you. It’s a lightweight beam attached to springs that allow it to oscillate when it’s exposed to airflow. And when it moves, it moves fast. The energy from that movement is then harnessed using an electromagnetic inductor system. Windbeams can be as small as 5 inches long – pint-sized compared to their other wind-harnessing contemporaries.
And since we’re on the topic of small things that pack a punch, why not bring up the Giant Isopod. Mind the misnomer – it’ll only grow to a maximum of 36cm but has also been known to kill a dogfish shark by eating its face. Great.
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