Basic Designs

Wind turbines are classified into two general types: horizontal axis and vertical axis. A horizontal axis machine has its blades rotating on an axis parallel to the ground. A vertical axis machine has its blades rotating on an axis perpendicular to the ground. There are a number of available designs for both and each type has certain advantages and disadvantages. However, compared with the horizontal axis type, very few vertical axis machines are available commercially.

Horizontal Axis
This is the most common wind turbine design. In addition to being parallel to the ground, the axis of blade rotation is parallel to the wind flow. Some machines are designed to operate in an upwind mode, with the blades upwind of the tower. In this case, a tail vane is usually used to keep the blades facing into the wind. Other designs operate in a downwind mode so that the wind passes the tower before striking the blades. Without a tail vane, the machine rotor naturally tracks the wind in a downwind mode. Some very large wind turbines use a motor-driven mechanism that turns the machine in response to a wind direction sensor mounted on the tower.

Vertical Axis Although vertical axis wind turbines have existed for centuries, they are not as common as their horizontal counterparts. The main reason for this is that they do not take advantage of the higher wind speeds at higher elevations above the ground as well as horizontal axis turbines. The basic vertical axis designs are the Darrieus, which has curved blades, the Giromill, which has straight blades, and the Savonius, which uses scoops to catch the wind.

A vertical axis machine need not be oriented with respect to wind direction. Because the shaft is vertical, the transmission and generator can be mounted at ground level allowing easier servicing and a lighter weight, lower cost tower. Although vertical axis wind turbines have these advantages, their designs are not as efficient at collecting energy from the wind as are the horizontal machine designs.

Some experimental wind turbines have incorporated an added structural design feature, called an augmentor, intended to increase the amount of wind passing through the blades. However, these augmentors do not increase the energy capture of the machine enough to justify the added cost of employing them.