This week it emerged that China looks set to be developing the world’s largest wind power capacity. A report published last month by the Global Wind Energy Council, Greenpeace and the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association suggested it could have 230GW by 2020 – equivalent to around 330 conventional power stations. 

Admittedly, China has one thing Britain lacks – space, in huge quantities. but it’s still impressive when you realise that they have doubled their wind power equipment in each of the past four years. China is on course to beat its official 2020 target of 30 gigawatts of installed wind power by this year.

From our small island we can only watch in envy. We are doing what we can, but while the UK works to make sustainable changes in the home, hitting our carbon reduction targets will also depend on the large-scale renewables that will slowly but surely decarbonise our electricity grid – no matter what people think they look like. We recently blogged about the power generated by a large new wind farm off the coast of Kent.

Scale is important; but what about design? Is the typical horizontal-axis, three-bladed turbine the only way to harness the wind?

There are other models. You may have heard of, or seen, the lesser-known vertical-axis wind turbines (such as the ones produced by a company called QuietRevolution). These also often have three blades, but they blow around a central vertical axis – on the same principle as a child’s roundabout.

Now an idea comes winging its way from New York, where a design firm called Atelier DNA has come up with something completely different: windstalks! Windstalks are designed to work around public resistance to standard turbines, on aesthetic grounds =, because they are real-estate-hungry, and because they can kill birds.

These 1,203 stalks – on cement bases in graduated sizes, based on a logarithmic spiral such as you find in the centre of a sunflower – can be placed close to each other because they have no blades, and are less aggressive on the skyline. Inspired by the movement of a field of wheat or wild grasses, they gather energy by moving naturally with the wind.

Even at 55m tall, the giant stalks aim to integrate with the natural landscape: in the gaps between the concrete, plants would be encouraged to grow wild – and at the tops of the stalks are LED lights to makes them twinkle at night. While the designers picture people seemingly taking the air among the giant energy-generating ‘grassland’ (even at night! Pretty, but take someone with you), we’re not sure if it isn’t a bit health & safety.

But we might leave that debate to the clams. Innovative designs are vital to the development of renewable energy – and we hear the designers are working on a prototype of an undersea variation, the wavestalk. That could be perfect for our homegrown NIMBY turbine-protesters.

Then again, maybe airborne wind power might be the way to go?