VAWTs Relegated to the Backwaters of the Internet Where Anti-Vaxxers Roam

By Paul Gipe

I’d seen a reference to the technical paper, Optimization of a vertical axis wind turbine for application in an urban/suburban area, by two academics making the rounds but didn’t take much notice of it before now.

When the same story came around a second time, I saw that the source was now Natural News and not an academic journal. Natural News rang a bell–and not a good one. I’d seen reference to this web site during the fight over vaccinations here in California and sure enough it was the same people who are leading the anti-vaccination campaign.

The article was titled Vertical-axis wind turbines potential sources of cheaper electricity in urban and suburban areas, researchers discover. When you go to that article at Natural News an ad pops up pleading for readers to step in and stop a nefarious plot by Google and Facebook to censor Natural News’ dissemination of important medical information.

Yep, not only is this the home of anti-vaxxers but also those opposed to fluoridation. They are also the proponents of crackpot conspiracies, such as chemtrails. If that’s not enough to keep them busy exposing nefarious plots to poison red-blooded Americans, the owner of the site is a “birther,” that is, one who ardently believes that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and not Hawaii and thus was an illegitimate President of the United States.

If you do visit that web site take a deep breath and hang onto your keyboard. From the titles of its linked articles, Natural News is a purveyor of rightwing conspiracy propaganda. Now Natural “News” has now stepped up and is taking the side of poor, discriminated VAWTs.

The article itself is fairly innocuous, a recitation of some research from Lam Nguyen and Meredith Metzger at the University of Utah touting a “well-designed” VAWT—as opposed to all the other VAWTs that have come before it—could produce electricity cheaper than the retail rate.

It was another trip down the rabbit hole as I read through the article. There was a reference to another article on Natural News about VAWTs: Breakthrough new wind farm design to increase energy production efficiency.

Sure enough it was an article about Dr. John Dabiri, then at Caltech, claiming that despite “the tremendous advances in wind turbine technology, wind ‘farms’ are still rather inefficient when taken as a whole.” Naturally, Dr. Dabiri’s research points a way to make them more efficient—with VAWTs. The article goes on to quote Dr. Dabiri saying, “The available wind energy at 30 feet is much less abundant than that found at the heights of modern wind turbines.” “But if near-ground wind can be harnessed more efficiently, there’s no need to access the higher altitude winds … our approach doesn’t rely on high individual turbine efficiency as much as close turbine spacing.” Whoa. That statement turns most of our understanding of wind turbines and wind energy on its head.

I’ve reluctantly written about Dr. Dabiri’s VAWT work before: Photos of Dabiri VAWT Test Site—Wing Power Turbines are Down.

Is it telling that both the work of the researchers at the University of Utah and that of Dr. Dabiri, now at Stanford University, are being promoted on a rightwing, anti-science web site?

Yes, it’s guilt by association. I’ve been accused as being anti-wind energy because some of my critiques of the wind industry have been used by those opposed to renewables so I am sensitive to this charge. Still, if academics make outlandish promotional claims about their work they should be held accountable if their work is then exploited by unscrupulous opportunists for private profit.

For a sampling of what Natural News is all about see