This paper presents the first results of a wide experimental investigation on the aerodynamics of a vertical axis wind turbine. Vertical axis wind turbines have recently received particular attention, as interesting alternative for small and micro generation applications. However, the complex fluid dynamic mechanisms occurring in these machines make the aerodynamic optimization of the rotors still an open issue and detailed experimental analyses are now highly recommended to convert improved flow field comprehensions into novel design techniques. The experiments were performed in the large-scale wind tunnel of the Politecnico di Milano (Italy), where real-scale wind turbines for micro generation can be tested in full similarity conditions. Open and closed wind tunnel configurations are considered in such a way to quantify the influence of model blockage for several operational conditions. Integral torque and thrust measurements, as well as detailed aerodynamic measurements were applied to characterize the 3D flow field downstream of the turbine. The local unsteady flow field and the streamwise turbulent component, both resolved in phase with the rotor position, were derived by hot wire measurements. The paper critically analyses the models and the correlations usually applied to correct the wind tunnel blockage effects. Results evidence that the presently available theoretical correction models does not provide accurate estimates of the blockage effect in the case of vertical axis wind turbines. The tip aerodynamic phenomena, in particular, seem to play a key role for the prediction of the turbine performance; large-scale unsteadiness is observed in that region and a simple flow model is used to explain the different flow features with respect to horizontal axis wind turbines.

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