I'm Just Sittin' Here Watchin' the Wheels Go Round and Round
July 13, 2014 3:51 PM   Subscribe

Watching Wind Turbines in the Snow turns out to be a clever solution to the practical reality that wind farms are simply too large to study in a wind tunnel. This holds promise for improving the efficiency of wind farms, which are steeply on the rise in the U.S. in recent years. Curiously, the rise in wind power is being facilitated by more flexible gas power plants that can pick up the slack on a moment's notice, helping to make up for one of wind power's biggest problems: It's lack of consistency.

Se also: 10 Short Reasons to be Excited about Wind Power Part of what creates wind is uneven heating of the earth's surface by the sun. In some sense, it is a form of secondary solar power.

And don't miss this Interactive Global Electricity Map
posted by Michele in California (9 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I saw some interesting wind farm modelling (at an epistemology of modelling conference) which suggested that wind farm power estimation was being done all wrong.
Instead of modelling the power output of a rotor (which is straightforward, well understood physics) you need to model the power output of the whole field.

Because wind turbines interact, so if you put one behind another then they block each other.
The modelling, which was based on fluid dynamics amongst shoals of fish, suggested that the edge effect vorticies of wind turbines could be harnessed to get a bigger power density by changing the placing, but this fairly straighforward idea had been missed because all the engineers were modelling wind turbines as individuals not fields.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:25 PM on July 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

This seems like a really obvious situation to me-whenever I look at wind farms the first question that comes to my mind is "How are the turbines interacting with each other?" I'm just amazed that this isn't a solved problem, that more research and knowledge on the interactions between wind turbines needs to be done.

It also seems obvious that the turbulence could be harnessed for extra energy- at the least birds do that when migrating in a "V" formation.
posted by happyroach at 6:22 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's still not a very good solution, because for a given quantity of generation capacity you have to buy it twice: once as windmills, and again as a gas turbine for backup. So it's inherently more expensive to install. The long-term savings (when the wind blows, you don't have to pay for gas) won't fully pay that back during the normal life of the generation system.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:02 PM on July 13, 2014

Wind power provides 5% of California's power. I'm pretty sure they didn't build any extra gas turbines for backup. There are already plenty of power plants and dams providing power when the wind doesn't blow. And in any case the windmills are put in places where the wind is pretty reliable.
posted by eye of newt at 9:25 PM on July 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Chocolate Pickle: " The long-term savingswon't fully pay that back during the normal life of the generation system."

That seems really unlikely. Wind turbines at the industrial level pay back their total cost in about a year; after that it is practically all gravy. Have you got some recent counter numbers?
posted by Mitheral at 9:48 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

An aside; I came back from driving through Germany two days ago. Nortern Germany and Denmark is absolutely infested with wind turbines. The rate of building them is still high, it seems, because every time I go down there I meet at least one turbine blade transport on the Autobahn. They look like this.

Solar is also very common. I would guess about 10% of private homes have solar panels on the roof.
posted by Harald74 at 11:37 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

because for a given quantity of generation capacity you have to buy it twice

One could make the argument that coal has to be pesos for three times, once for the plant, once for the coal and then again for the mitigation of the pollution which causes climate change and the premature death of hundreds of thousands of people every year. But that get paid for by some other suckers and not on energy bills so what the heck.

Mitheral: CP is talking about financial payback, that link is about energy payback. CP is still wrong however, a wind turbine typically pays back in about 6-8 years, gas turbines do not need to back up wind at 100% of capacity and do not double the cost of wind.
posted by biffa at 11:54 PM on July 13, 2014

Oh my gosh Harald74, that video is supremely cool to me. I love the impression of scale. And who knew they had brushy things on the edge??
posted by Mizu at 11:56 PM on July 13, 2014

These are kind of gee-whiz articles all from the not-always-fully-clued NatGeo. Wake modelling has been a thing since the mid 1980s; there are still hilarious fights between developers and banks' engineers over what constitutes wake losses. As we get more and more reliable turbines, and years of operational data from stable designs, the huge losses that we used to get slapped with for turbine availability are slowly being assigned to wakes, where they should have been all along.

The article unfairly pees on LIDAR; essentially what the researcher is doing with a searchlight during a snowstorm is what LIDAR does all the time in a several hundred metre tall cone with water vapour in the air. Good luck getting reliable anemometry data during a squall.

The new gas turbines might be neat and all — bravo not pissing away ⅔ of your input energy — but wind is getting better grid penetration through system operator familiarity, more grid-friendly generators and inverters (I don't miss the monumental CLUNNG!! that the old 400 kW units used to make when they hit synch speed, and the contactors dropped in), and perhaps most of all, better real-time forecasting. Gas backup for wind is much smaller than the old 1:1 assumption that Pickens built his plan on.
posted by scruss at 5:01 AM on July 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

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