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Levitating!

Magnetic levitation is already used to move trains, like this one being tested in Germany.

NIGEL TREBLIN/AFP/Getty Images

One of the reasons why wind turbines are relatively inefficient is the friction between moving parts [source: Fecht]. That friction wastes energy, reducing the turbine's output. If you could, say, levitate a turbine's blades rather than physically attaching them to the base, that friction would be eliminated.

This technology is available. Several companies, in various stages of development, are working on maglev turbines. Magnetic levitation, which has propelled clean-energy trains for years, has the potential to increase wind-turbine efficiency by up to 20 percent, according to China-based Guangzhou Energy Research Institute [source: Fecht]. These frictionless units can harness slower-moving wind, turn more of the wind power they capture into electricity, and face less wear-and-tear than traditional models.

U.S.-based Regenedyne and NuEnergy are both developing maglev turbines for commercial sale. The models are silent, safer for birds and are significantly less expensive than "windmill"-type units [source: NuEnergy]. Lifespan would have a lot to do with that: Regenedyne claims a maglev-turbine lifespan of 500 years, compared to about 25 years for current, friction-filled models [source: Off Grid Technologies].

Next up, wind energy goes recreational ...

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