Monday, December 11, 2017

'Wake' Mystery Is Mostly Fixed, Helping Turbines Best Coal

The first picture of "wake effects," or turbulence that can reduce the power production from wind farms, was taken in 2008 by a pilot flying over an offshore wind farm near Denmark. (Credit: Vattenfall/NOAA) Click to Enlarge.
Sandy Butterfield, one of the pioneers of U.S. wind power, had suspected for years that long, invisible wakes of turbulent air created by the wind turbines in the front of a configuration robbed power from the wind turbines built behind them.  He was excited to read one of the Danish reports, titled The Shadow Effect of Large Wind Farms.

For the most part, wind production reports are held as proprietary information by U.S. utilities.  The data are kept secret, which some utilities think prevents other companies from learning about their best practices.  But overall, Butterfield and other experts suspect that sharing such information might have helped the U.S. wind industry learn from its mistakes and grow more quickly than it has.

Denmark, which gets 42 percent of its electricity from wind (versus 5.5 percent in the United States), has a government policy of exploiting the technology to the hilt.  It made the reports public, and Butterfield could see why.  It was a cry for more scientific help.

Trump admin helping wind
The data showed what Butterfield called a "very nice smooth curve."  The towers on the windward front of the array were producing lots of power.  But the production from a larger number of turbines in the center of the array was almost 40 percent less.  Then there were a few turbines on the remote corners of the array that were outproducing the turbines at the front of the array.

"This was counterintuitive," Butterfield recalled.  "We had to pay attention to it."

The invisible tangle of multiple wind turbine wakes on the farm had somehow prevented the 80 towers from collectively reaching the wind farm's maximum efficiency.  It revealed a problem that could clearly be worse amid the more complex topography of land-based wind farms — and the United States was busy building some of the largest in the world.

Horns Rev 1 had exposed one of the problems that led to "Atmosphere to Electrons."  Commonly called A2e, it is a multiyear effort by the Department of Energy to reassess the basic physics of wind farms.  It began to take shape in 2011 and is still underway.

In 2013 it led to the construction of the Scaled Wind Farm Technology center (SWiFT), a public test site for wind turbines at Lubbock, Texas.  There, DOE, the wind power industry, and academic researchers can experiment with turbines and study the impact of their wakes on each other.  The site, located in a region with high winds and low turbulence, is heavily instrumented and managed by scientists from DOE's Sandia National Laboratories and aided by nearby Texas Tech University.

"There is potentially a direct pathway to reduce the cost of energy by improving the efficiency of the wind plant," explained David C. Maniaci, a researcher at Sandia.  He said SWiFT has been producing data for two years and will eventually grow to 10 turbines, which will be moved around and adjusted to ascertain the maximum efficiency of an entire wind farm.

Noting that wind power is already "very competitive" with other forms of energy, Maniaci said researchers believe it could emerge as the cheapest fuel if the wake problem can be solved and by increasing the height of turbines and the size of rotors.  This summer's tests used laser devices that helped the researchers see the wakes being produced.

"We're doing targeted incremental steps and feeding the information back to industry," Maniaci said.

A DOE study released in August came to a similar conclusion that the SWiFT facility and other elements of A2e research will result in much greater efficiencies for U.S. wind farms.  It estimates that it may be possible to find as much as $150 billion in cost savings for utilities, consumers and the nation by 2050.  The study estimates that the U.S. wind potential could supply more than 7.5 times the total electricity its utilities generated in 2016.

The report, called "Enabling the SMART Wind Power Plant of the Future Through Science-Based Innovation," predicts good news for almost everyone:  "Future generations of technologically advanced wind power are anticipated to provide consumers with wind energy at unsubsidized costs competitive with or lower than other new and existing generation resources."

Read more at 'Wake' Mystery Is Mostly Fixed, Helping Turbines Best Coal

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