Wind Energy GE works on new design to lower wind turbine noise.

Published on August 19th, 2013 | by Tina Casey


Shhhh! New Low Noise Wind Turbine Blades Designed By GE

August 19th, 2013 by  

Forget about building a better mousetrap, if you could build a noise-free wind turbine the world will beat a path to your door. That’s not only on account of the annoyance factor, it’s because wind turbine noise can be a significant impediment to greater efficiency. GE has been tackling the problem head on in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories, and the company has just announced a new design model for wind turbine blades that could result in a two percent increase in output.

That might sound like small potatoes, but consider that according to GE, about 240 gigawatts worth of new wind turbines are set to be installed over the next five years, so any small increase in efficiency is going to translate into a big difference worldwide.

Wind Turbine Noise

In terms of the annoyance factor, wind turbine noise can be highly subjective. In 1985, for example, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory undertook a study of noise complaints regarding the experimental DOE/NASA MOD-1 wind turbine in North Carolina.

Of more than 1,000 families living within three kilometers of the turbine, only about 12 reported noise complaints, but the investigation did reveal a probable design flaw leading to generation of a “thumping” phenomenon that could carry over distance.

While there is nothing subjective about measuring wind turbine power output, it is linked to wind turbine noise. Specifically, the aerodynamic noise created by the blades is the most significant source of noise from advanced wind turbines. With the right design approach, a quiet blade will be a more efficient blade, too.

GE works on new design to lower wind turbine noise.

Large Eddy Simulation courtesy of GE.

Building A Quieter Wind Turbine Blade

GE Global Research is the arm of the company involved in the project, which at its current state of progress involves using sophisticated engineering models to predict blade noise. The aim is to get the greatest velocity at the tip of the blade without a consequent increase in noise.

As for where those engineering models are to be found, GE went to the Red Mesa supercomputer at Sandia, where they ran a simulation called the Large Eddy Simulation. Developed by Standford University, the simulation is designed to predict fluid dynamics and their effects, including noise from wind blades.

The simulation ran for three months, measuring the turbulent air flow past a section of wind blade. The result is a flow-field prediction model that can be used to assess new blade designs.

By itself, the model isn’t going to design a new blade from scratch, but GE predicts that it will be a useful tool for improving advanced turbine designs even further while increasing power output. GE figures on a two percent increase in annual energy yield per turbine, based on a reduction of 1 decibel in rotor noise.

We Built This Less Noisy, More Efficient Wind Turbine!

The Red Mesa supercomputer is a collaboration between Sandia and NREL, both of which come under the Department of Energy, and GE has been right up front about cheerleading for this valuable public resource.

Mark Jonkhof, who is Wind Energy Platform Leader at GE Global Research, explains:

“Having access to Sandia’s supercomputer was invaluable in our ability to conduct these experiments and make discoveries that will bolster wind power’s potential. Access and availability to HPC resources offers a critical advantage to companies trying to compete in a global environment.”

There’s plenty more where that came from, too. Red Mesa was designed specifically to rev up the R&D process for advanced alternative energy designs.

One of the supercomputer’s first projects was solving a cornstalk-to-energy problem in about six weeks, which would normally take about six months.

As for further improvements in wind turbine design, next up is an answer to the winged animal hazard conundrum. Though bird and bat deaths related to wind energy development may be low compared to other man-made environmental hazards, as the wind market expands this problem will need greater attention.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Kent Doering

    As a U.S. nam Vet- ex-pat residing i Germany ad outsourcing fro some of the clean tech competition to G.E. here, I find the development interesting. I am familiar with wind turbine oise, and the developments for onshore installations are welcome. However, as most German onshore installations are i forested regions – with the blades above the trees- or aagrarian field installations at least 1.5 to 2 kilometers away from residential districts and towns- the noise factor- is lessened. Offshore wind park build outs up to 60 miles offshore- say the Helgoland wind park build out which will have a big capaöcity of 5.1 gigawatts, the noise factor – becomes irrelevat.

  • JamesWimberley

    Since most complaints about wind turbine noise are imaginary, it´s not likely that (welcome) real reductions in noise will stop them.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Well, we can imagine that the folks with the imaginary problems will quit making absurd claims…. ;o)

      I find the increase in output more interesting. Cheaper power from renewables = faster death to fossil fuels.

      • MorinMoss

        Replace existing turbines with quieter ones but spread the word that the replacements are much louder and the company only cares about making money and not at all about the public’s wellbeing
        Oh, the hilarity.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Perhaps we should start a rumor that people that live close to wind farms have more frequent sex.

          Something like the Chicago neighborhood that had a higher than expected birthrate. Figured out it was the 5 am train that passed through. “Well, since we’re awake anyway….”

    • sean

      you are forgetting that Noise=Vibration=Maintenance=$$$

      even if the noise is small, you are adding to the wear and tear on the turbine

      the other benefit is that if their are less eddy currents you have less turbulence and can possibly stack turbines closer together

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