Answers to huge wind-farm problems are blowin' in the wind

December 15, 2008

Answers to huge wind-farm problems are blowin' in the wind
Somnath Baidya Roy, a professor of atmospheric sciences, says careful planning and testing can minimize harmful impacts of large wind farms. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
( -- While harnessing more energy from the wind could help satisfy growing demands for electricity and reduce emissions of global-warming gases, turbulence from proposed wind farms could adversely affect the growth of crops in the surrounding countryside.

Solutions to this, and other problems presented by wind farms – containing huge wind turbines, each standing taller than a 60-story building and having blades more than 300 feet long – can be found blowin’ in the wind, a University of Illinois researcher says.

“By identifying better siting criteria, determining the optimum spacing between turbines, and designing more efficient rotors, we can minimize the harmful impacts of large wind farms,” said Somnath Baidya Roy, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the U. of I. “Through careful planning and testing, we can avoid some of the worst pitfalls altogether.”

In recent years, wind-power technology has progressed from small, isolated windmills to large wind farms that contain vast arrays of giant turbines plugged into existing power-distribution networks. A wind farm in northwest Iowa, for example, has more than 600 wind turbines, and provides power to more than 140,000 homes.

“If wind is to be a major player in global electrical production, however, we have to think in terms of even larger scales– of say, thousands of turbines per wind farm,” Baidya Roy said. “Such a wind farm could replace ten coal-fired power plants, but with so many turbines, turbulence could generate huge problems.”

By disrupting airflow to nearby turbines, turbulence can significantly reduce the efficiency of a wind farm. But turbulence produced by turbine rotors also can have a strong impact on local ground temperature and moisture content.

“Turbulence creates stronger mixing of heat and moisture, which causes the land surface to become warmer and drier,” Baidya Roy said. “This change in local hydrometeorological conditions can affect the growth of crops within the wind farm.”

One way to reduce the impact of turbulence is to better integrate the wind-energy generation process into the natural kinetic energy cycle.

In this cycle, solar energy heats Earth’s surface and is converted into the kinetic energy of a moving air mass. Some of the wind’s kinetic energy is lost as friction, as it passes over and around obstructions such as trees, houses and mountains. At a wind farm, some of the wind’s kinetic energy is harvested and changed into mechanical energy by turning a turbine, and then into electrical energy that flows into power lines.

The first step in reducing the effects of turbulence on local hydrometeorological conditions is to identify regions around the world where wind energy is high and frictional dissipation also is high, Baidya Roy said. “Building wind farms in regions where there is already a lot of kinetic energy dissipation would help to minimize the intrusion to the natural kinetic energy cycle.”

Although the tops of mountain ranges are regions with high winds and high surface friction, constructing wind farms on summits would be impractical or economically unfeasible. Researchers must therefore search for regions better suited for integration with the kinetic energy cycle.

Using the IRA25 dataset, a comprehensive collection of 25 years of data from surface meteorological stations, radiosondes and satellites, Baidya Roy is mapping the wind’s frictional dissipation around the world. He is able to estimate how much wind is available at selected sites, and how much of the wind’s kinetic energy is dissipated as friction at the surface.

His results show that eastern and central Africa, western Australia, eastern China, southern Argentina and Chile, northern Amazonia, the northeastern United States, and Greenland are ideal locations for siting low-impact wind farms. In these regions, a wind farm with 100 large wind turbines spaced about 1 kilometer apart can produce more than 10 megawatts of electricity.

In related work, Baidya Roy also is studying ways to reduce the effects of rotor-generated turbulence on nearby wind turbines. As wind passes through a turbine, some of the energy creates a disruption much like that created by a moving boat. This disruption can affect the efficiency of a wind farm.

Using models, Baidya Roy is simulating the effects of different turbine spacing and patterns, and different rotor designs, on turbulence. The simulations show that reducing rotor-generated turbulence not only reduces the hydrometeorological impacts, but also increases power production by harnessing energy that was otherwise lost to turbulence.

“These studies suggest that while large wind farms can affect local hydrometeorology, there are smart engineering solutions that can significantly reduce those impacts.”

Baidya Roy will describe his work and present early findings at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, Dec. 15-19.

Provided by University of Illinois

Explore further: Fixing the environment: when solutions become problems

Related Stories

Best of Last Year—The top Tech Xplore articles of 2018

December 24, 2018

It was a great year for technological innovation as a team at MIT announced that they had flown the first-ever plane with no moving parts. Instead of turbines, propellers or even fans, the new plane was powered by an "ionic ...

Recommended for you

Technology near for real-time TV political fact checks

January 18, 2019

A Duke University team expects to have a product available for election year that will allow television networks to offer real-time fact checks onscreen when a politician makes a questionable claim during a speech or debate.

Privacy becomes a selling point at tech show

January 7, 2019

Apple is not among the exhibitors at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, but that didn't prevent the iPhone maker from sending a message to attendees on a large billboard.

China's Huawei unveils chip for global big data market

January 7, 2019

Huawei Technologies Ltd. showed off a new processor chip for data centers and cloud computing Monday, expanding into new and growing markets despite Western warnings the company might be a security risk.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2 / 5 (3) Dec 15, 2008
here is an answer:
They only need to be 20 feet up in the air.
4 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2008
It seems that so far wind farms have not been constructed in a efficient manner. Huge classical style turbines may be out of date as having to go way up high to do repairs is too costly. There are new jet engine looking designs, and also long vertical bladed designs with the generators at ground level that may prove to be far more efficient in both power generation and maintenance costs.

Plus, the day of giant power generating facilities may be a dinosaur; and smaller more localized power generation will take its place.
3 / 5 (2) Dec 16, 2008
James Thomas,
You are correct. Smaller is better and as I tried before to explain this technology, wind tamer, is exactly what you are talking about http://www.windta...ndex.asp
3 / 5 (2) Dec 17, 2008
Thadieus, you're right - smaller is better, but your website is useless. How big is the turbine? How fast does it spin? What's the power output at windspeeds?

Sounds like a scam to me. The webpage looks like a scam page too.
2 / 5 (2) Dec 17, 2008
Your correct the web site is weak but the turbine is legit. It's been at Clarkson University going thru the paces since June. The results were good enough for it to go in production next month.
It's a 1 KW Turbine and at least 28% efficient. I've e-mailed them to get more specs. But with a cut in at 5MPH and only have to be 20 ft up falls under most zoning laws. Pretty interesting.
not rated yet Dec 22, 2008
I am pretty familure with this company. Here is a link to their recent sec filing which contains their business plan.

I am not at liberty to say the exact number but the 28% efficient number is not correct. It is much, much higher than that and they are going to produce turbines up to 10Kw to start.
not rated yet Dec 22, 2008
Also, for your reading enjoyment, here is a link to their patent.
not rated yet Dec 27, 2008
I am not familure with Wind Duty, but Wind Tamer is much higher than 30%. All I can say at this point is independant testing has the Wind Tamer well over 40% with peaks into the low 50's. This info will be made public shortly as they are going public very soon.
not rated yet Dec 29, 2008
Thadieus, thanks for the link. Very interesting design.

What would you think of a wind turbine with 85% efficiency? Here is the link to Venturiwind Turbines in the Netherlands.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.