10 Innovations in Wind Power

The future of wind power may look entirely different from the familiar -- and controversial -- horizontal-axis turbines we know. JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images

One of the most promising alternative-energy technologies has, in recent years, garnered more skepticism than praise. Horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWT), those massive, bladed towers that turn a windy day into clean energy for the grid, can also kill birds and bats, require expensive regular maintenance, have issues with efficiency and just generally annoy local residents with suddenly hindered views and undesirable (and possibly unhealthy) noise levels.

U.S. wind-farm installation has accordingly slowed, but an influx of government funding in 2012 may offer new hope for wind power [source: Hurdle]. Research has been yielding some amazing possibilities in features and generation methods; a lot of the machines on the drawing board look and function very little like the "windmills" we're accustomed to.

The future of wind may not be in blades, in farms, or even fixed to the Earth. Here are 10 of the most unique approaches to improving the ways we turn wind into electricity. Some are a wee bit dreamy, others in various stages of design and prototype, and a couple boast tentative dates for commercial sale.

We'll begin with one whose inventors say captures far more wind than conventional designs and may be on the market in 2013.