Machine Learning Enhances Viability of Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines

  • EPFL researchers leverage genetic learning algorithms to optimize pitch profiles for vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs).
  • VAWTs demonstrate the potential for higher energy density and reduced environmental impact compared to traditional horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWTs).
  • Innovative pitch profiles lead to a 200% increase in turbine efficiency and a 77% reduction in structural vibrations.
  • By capitalizing on dynamic stall phenomena, VAWTs convert wind gusts into opportunities for increased power generation.
  • Real-world testing of proof-of-concept VAWT aims to validate scalability and commercial viability.

Main AI News:

Advancements in wind turbine technology have long been dominated by horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWTs), but researchers at EPFL have set their sights on reviving the potential of vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs) through innovative machine learning techniques. Despite their historical significance, VAWTs have faced limitations due to their susceptibility to strong gusts of wind. However, recent breakthroughs in pitch profile optimization present a promising solution to this longstanding challenge.

In a bid to harness the benefits of VAWTs, Sébastien Le Fouest and Karen Mulleners of the School of Engineering Unsteady Flow Diagnostics Lab (UNFOLD) have spearheaded a groundbreaking study published in Nature Communications. By employing a genetic learning algorithm, they have identified optimal pitch profiles for VAWT blades, unlocking a 200% increase in turbine efficiency and a 77% reduction in potentially damaging vibrations.

Le Fouest underscores the significance of their research, highlighting it as the first experimental application of a genetic learning algorithm in determining the most effective blade pitch for VAWTs. This innovative approach not only addresses the engineering challenges associated with VAWTs but also positions them as a viable contender in the renewable energy landscape.

Converting Challenges into Opportunities

Despite the growing momentum of wind energy adoption in Europe, there remains a pressing need to accelerate its expansion to meet ambitious carbon emission targets. Le Fouest emphasizes that the primary obstacles hindering this progress are not financial but social and legislative, with public apprehension surrounding the size and noise of traditional wind turbines.

However, the research team’s focus on VAWTs presents a transformative opportunity to overcome these barriers. By leveraging sensor technology and machine learning algorithms, they have devised a strategy to mitigate VAWTs’ inherent vulnerability to dynamic stall phenomena caused by gusty winds.

Through meticulous experimentation and computational analysis, the researchers have devised pitch profiles that not only enhance turbine efficiency but also capitalize on dynamic stalls to propel the blades forward, thereby generating additional power. This innovative approach effectively converts what was once considered a weakness into a distinct advantage, marking a significant milestone in VAWT technology development.

Looking Ahead: From Research to Real-World Implementation

With the groundwork laid by their pioneering study, Le Fouest and his team are poised to transition from theoretical breakthroughs to tangible real-world applications. Supported by a Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) BRIDGE grant, they aim to construct a proof-of-concept VAWT for outdoor testing under actual environmental conditions.

The ultimate goal is to demonstrate the scalability, reliability, and commercial viability of VAWT technology, paving the way for widespread adoption in the renewable energy sector. Le Fouest expresses optimism about the transformative potential of their air flow control method, envisioning a future where VAWTs play a prominent role in the global transition towards sustainable energy solutions.


The integration of machine learning techniques into the optimization of vertical-axis wind turbines signifies a significant breakthrough in renewable energy technology. By addressing longstanding engineering challenges and harnessing the inherent advantages of VAWTs, this innovation has the potential to disrupt the wind energy market, offering a more efficient, reliable, and environmentally sustainable alternative to conventional wind turbine designs. As VAWT technology matures and gains widespread acceptance, it is poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of renewable energy production.