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Published on August 5th, 2013 | by Silvio Marcacci


Wind Energy Research Facility Launched To Boost Wind Farm Output

August 5th, 2013 by  

A new research facility could help solve one of wind energy’s biggest limiting factors – the slowing effect multiple turbines have upon wind strength and power output within large wind farms.

The Scaled Wind Farm Technology (SWiFT) facility recently launched at Texas Tech University to study how turbine spacing within a wind farm affects turbulence, aerodynamic losses, equipment damage, and overall wind energy generation efficiency.

SWiFT is a collaborative effort between the US Department of Energy, Sandia National Laboratories, Texas Tech University, and Vestas, and is the first-ever research facility dedicated solely to determining how turbine wake affects downwind turbine production and identifying siting strategies to improve wind farm output.

Turbine Spacing Affects Wind Energy Output

Turbine spacing within a wind farm may not seem like a big deal, especially considering the wind boom America’s currently experiencing, but it may be one of the key hurdles wind energy must clear in order to become a major part of our clean energy future.

SWiFT wind farm research center

SWiFT wind farm research center image via Sandia National Laboratories

Recent research suggests turbines in interior rows of a wind farm deliver up to 40% less power than those in front, meaning traditional turbine spacing leads to overestimated generating capacity and thus, output.

This “shadowing” effect not only reduces power output, but also increases fatigue on turbine blades. “Wind turbines are greedy, said Pat Moriarty of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “They will try to extract as much energy from the wind as possible without consideration for anything else around them, such as other turbines in a wind farm.”

The Only Wind Research Facility Of Its Kind

Now enter SWiFT. The facility is located at a Class 5 wind site, features three research-scale wind turbines spaced to simulate a traditional wind farm, and can expand to ten turbines over time. The turbines have state-of-the-art turbine control and data-acquisition systems that funnel hundreds of data sets to an on-site control building containing 640 square feet of computing space to analyze turbine performance.

In addition to the farm and control building, SWiFT features a 7,500-square foot assembly building for experimental turbine construction, two anemometer towers located directly upwind of the turbines to measure wind speed, and access to Texas Tech’s Wind Science and Engineering Research Center’s (WiSE) atmospheric observation facilities.

Research at SWiFT will ultimately have many applications, but will initially focus on reducing power loss and damage from turbine-turbine interactions, enhancing the energy capture potential of advanced rotors, improving the aero-dynamic and aero-elastic properties of wind farm equipment, and testing new technologies.

“Completion of the SWiFT facility marks a new and exciting chapter of wind research,” said Kent Hance, Texas Tech University chancellor. “Research generated from this venture will enhance the capability of wind turbines and help develop wind power systems of the future.”

Check out this Texas Tech video for more information about SWiFT and the facility’s groundbreaking:

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

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