When asked to think about wind power, the first image you probably conjure up is that of a classic windmill gently spinning on a grassy hilltop. But as the demand for more efficient and more affordable wind power grows, designers are continually being asked to push the limits of the technology. Often this leads to some pretty wild, zany and ingenious ideas. Though modern turbine design is generally a testament to the unlimited creativity and ingenuity of today’s engineers, a few of these designs may nevertheless leave you scratching your head and asking: How exactly is that supposed to work?

Here’s our list of 11 of the most unusual and anti-intuitive wind turbine designs that could soon revolutionize the field.

Grimshaw Aerogenerator

Photo credit: Grimshaw Architects

Grimshaw Aerogenerator

This antennae-looking turbine, designed by Wind Power Limited and visualized by Grimshaw Architects, looks more like a radio beacon for contacting space aliens than it does a way of generating power from wind. Nevertheless, this unexpected design has the potential to generate roughly three times more power than a conventional offshore turbine of equivalent size.

The Aerogenerator makes use of a rotating vertical shaft, as opposed to the horizontal shafts of more familiar windmill designs. This simple conceptual adjustment has a number of advantages. First, it removes the need for the turbine to always be facing into the wind; gusts coming from any direction can cause it to spin. Secondly, it makes the turbine more cost effective to maintain and repair, since the gear boxes are located at ground level rather than at the top of a tower.

Check out a video animation of an offshore Aerogenerator in action.


Photo credit: Atelier DNA

Windstalk Bladeless Turbine

Can there be such a thing as a turbine without blades? That’s the idea behind Atelier DNA’s Windstalk design, a bladeless turbine that looks more like a giant cattail swaying in the wind than it does a windmill. Electricity is generated each time the wind sets the Windstalks a-waving. Their principle advantages over traditional designs are that they produce little noise and are bird-and-bat safe, since there are no spinning parts. They also have a strong aesthetic appeal. You might imagine yourself mesmerized by a field of these turbines dancing in the breeze.

Each stalk is 180-feet high, so they are also impressive in size. You can investigate more about these turbines at Atelier DNA, and look into more of this laboratory’s other innovative designs.

Single Blade Turbine

Photo credit: Powerhouse Wind

Powerhouse Wind’s Single Blade Turbine

The Windstalk proved that there can be such a thing as a bladeless turbine, but what about a turbine with only one blade? New Zealand’s Powerhouse Wind has not only proven that such a turbine can work, but also that a one-blade design can be cheaper and quieter than conventional multi-blade turbines.

Since much of the noise from spinning turbine blades comes from their tips and trailing edge, having only one blade automatically reduces noise. Fewer blades also means more durability. The turbine is currently geared more toward domestic scale production, and because of its one-blade design it is also more affordable to the average consumer.

NanoVentSkin Tunnel Application

Photo credit: NanoVentSkin


When it comes to meeting large-scale wind energy demands, most people think big. Designer Agustin Otegui thinks small. Nano small. He has come up with the ingenious idea of creating a fabric-like “skin” which is made up of thousands of tiny interwoven micro-turbines. As wind blows across the surface of this “skin,” the mini-turbines spin. Collectively, they have the power to collect a lot of energy.

The biggest advantage to this design is that these turbines can be placed almost anywhere: on the surface of buildings, as lining for gusty highway tunnels, even on the shafts of larger traditional wind turbines.

You can read more, and see more images, at Otegui’s NanoVentSkin blog.

Wind Dam

Photo credit: Chetwoods Architects

The Wind Dam

You’ve heard of hydroelectric dams, but have you heard of a wind dam? That’s the imaginative idea behind this “sail turbine” design by Chetwoods Architects. This giant sail, designed to be positioned in a windy mountain gorge near Northern Russia’s Lake Ladoga, acts as a dam, funneling the wind through a central turbine. With traditional turbines, more wind passes around the rotors than through them. But this inefficiency is solved if the wind is collected and dammed within a giant sail.

This design also passes the aesthetic test; a difficult task given that its proposed placement is in such a spectacular and unblemished landscape.


Photo credit: asadel/YouTube

Laddermill Project

This innovative design by researchers at Delft University in The Netherlands makes use of a string of tethered “kiteplanes,” which soar in the high altitude winds of the jet stream. Essentially, the aerodynamics of the planes makes them fly in a continuous loop, which turns an electrical generator on the ground. The principle advantage of this Laddermill design is that it can capture the consistent and high speed winds that exist at over 30,000 feet.

Watch this video to see the kiteplanes in action.

Dynamic Tower Turbines

Photo credit: David Fisher/Dynamic Architecture

Dubai’s Dynamic Tower

There may not be a greater molding of wind power and architecture than that of Dubai’s Dynamic Tower. This planned structure, designed by architect David Fisher, features rotating floors which can each move independently via voice command. In the space between each floor is a wind turbine, eloquently hidden and virtually silent. It is estimated that 1,200,000 kilowatt-hours of energy will be generated every year from the turbines alone. The building should be able to generate enough power to meet all of its own energy needs, with additional help from solar panels fitted on the roof.

Check out video animations of this remarkable building at the Dynamic Architecture website.

Flying Turbine

Photo credit: Makani Power

Flying Wind Turbine

Why put a turbine on the ground when you can make it airborne? This inventive design looks more like a top secret air force plane than a wind turbine. Designed by Makani Power, the Airborne Wind Turbine has the obvious advantage of being able to collect wind from higher altitudes. Each propeller makes about 7.5 kilowatts of power, which is sent back down to Earth via a cable.

The turbine can be easily launched from land or from a platform out at sea.  A medley of videos featuring the flying turbine in flight, and highlighting its specs, can be found at the Makani Power website here.

Magenn Blimp Turbine

Photo credit: Magenn

Magenn Blimp Turbine

This might look like the typical blimp occasionally seen floating over your local sports arena, but it’s actually a “lighter-than-air,” high altitude wind turbine. Designed by Magenn Power, Inc., the blimp turbine generates power by spinning around a horizontal axis. Electricity is then transferred down the 1000-foot tether which also keeps it anchored.

The blimp’s most obvious advantage over traditional turbines is that it can reach the high speed winds found at higher altitudes. It also costs considerably less than traditional designs and can be easily deployed from just about anywhere.

You can find more about the design at Magenn.


Photo credit: Popular Mechanics Video


Who needs a turbine at all when you can generate power merely from an elastic belt vibrating in the wind? This innovative design comes from Shawn Frayne, who was first inspired to create the Windbelt design after watching video of the Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse. Thinking on a smaller scale, Frayne realized that as a belt bowed in the wind, it could generate electricity. The design is ideal for powering small appliances and devices like LED lamps and radios.

Frayne also likens his Windbelt design to that of a violin bow, which speaks to the design’s simple yet deeply aesthetic appeal. Since it involves so few components and is so cheap to assemble, it’s ideal for small rural communities in developing countries.

You can view a video of Frayne discussing the Windbelt at Popular Mechanics here.

Wind Harvester

Photo credit: Wind Power Innovations

Wind Harvester

Looking at this device resembling a giant teeter-totter, you may wonder how exactly it is meant to generate power. Called the “Wind Harvester” and invented by Heath Evdemon — also the founder of Wind Power Innovations — this bizarre looking turbine is specially designed to generate power from subtle winds that aren’t strong enough to turn traditional turbines.

The system is based on reciprocating motion. When wind catches the device’s airfoil, it raises until it reaches its peak, then the blade alters its angle and it teeters the other way. Not only does it work in low wind speeds, but it is virtually silent as it rocks up and down. The low-impact motion of the Wind Harvester also makes it ideal for environmentally sensitive areas.