Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to properly arrange arrays of wind turbines

Researchers at Caltech say that the power output of wind farms can be increased by an order of magnitude (i.e. at least tenfold) simply by optimizing the placement of turbines.

Modern wind farms usually employ propeller-like horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWTs). The design has the disadvantage that the wake generated by one turbine can interfere with neighboring turbines thereby considerably reducing the energy that is produced. Therefore the individual turbines are placed farther apart than the obvious requirement of their blades not being able to touch dictates.

Alltwalis Wind Farm, Wales by Statkraft on Flickr
License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bigger blades and taller towers allow to use more of the wind and to do so at heights where gusts are more powerful but this results in higher costs, more challenging engineering problems and a larger impact as bigger and taller turbines generate more noise and are more dangerous to birds and bats.

The solution the researchers suggest is using vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs) (think of egg-beaters sticking out of the ground) can be positioned very close to one another and optimize their arrangement. Having every turbine turn in the opposite direction of its neighbors also increases their efficiency. Here is a video illustrating how the arrangement looks like:

Caltech Field Laboratory for
Optimized Wind Energy (FLOWE)

In the following video, John Dabiri, the Caltech professor of aeronautics and bioengineering who suggested the design of the wind farm, himself explains what fish schools have to do with it.

Caltech Researchers Find 
Wind-turbine Placement Produces
10-fold Power Increase

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