In both the solar industry and the wind power industry, one key aspect to decreasing costs and increasing efficiencies is control. For solar power, control of the collector's orientation to the sun is helpful. For wind power, control of the turbine's orientation to the wind, as well as the speed the turbine is allowed to rotate are two key factors.
Control comes at a cost, though; such systems require mechanics that can fail, raising costs. Further, the sensor feedback systems to effectively regulate such devices are still in their fledgling stages.
Purdue University researchers have taken a step forward to solving the latter challenge with a new sensor/software system that analyzes input from turbine blades to determine precise information on wind conditions, and in turn yield precise adjustments. The project was done in conjunction with Sandia National Laboratories.
Purdue doctoral student Jonathan White, who led the research along with Professor Douglas Adams, states, "The ultimate goal is to feed information from sensors into an active control system that precisely adjusts components to optimize efficiency."
Another critical gain will be an increase in turbine longevity. Currently, turbine lifespans are shortened by damage that can occur when the turbines spin unbraked during high winds. Professor Adams notes, "Wind energy is playing an increasing role in providing electrical power. The United States is now the largest harvester of wind energy in the world. The question is, what can be done to wind turbines to make them more efficient, more cost effective and more reliable?"
The new system uses special sensors -- uniaxial and triaxial accelerometers -- built directly into a turbine blade, made out of fiberglass and balsa wood and strengthened with carbon fiber. The sensors monitor both dynamic acceleration (gusting winds) and static acceleration (background winds). The blade is currently deployed on a U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service turbine in Bushland, Texas. The researchers constantly collect the sensor data, tweaking and refining their model of the turbine's current state.
One idea the researchers have is to build control flaps into a future test turbine. These flaps would help adjust the wind resistance during faster wind, similar to how a plane slows during descent. This alternative to electric braking would be ideally partnered with the constant feedback of the researchers' sensor network.
Professor Adams adds, "The aim is to operate the generator and the turbine in the most efficient way, but this is difficult because wind speeds fluctuate. You want to be able to control the generator or the pitch of the blades to optimize energy capture by reducing forces on the components in the wind turbine during excessively high winds and increase the loads during low winds. In addition to improving efficiency, this should help improve reliability. The wind turbine towers can be 200 feet tall or more, so it is very expensive to service and repair damaged components."
The team is currently working on adapting the system to advanced turbine designs. They are also looking to test the system's outputs with new control technologies like the aforementioned wind flaps.
While smart wind power might not seem like a big deal for some, when you consider the tremendous amount of wind power deployment in the U.S. and abroad, even little increases to efficiency and longevity could go a long way. The United States added 8,358 megawatts of new capacity in 2008, to bring its total capacity to 25,170 megawatts -- the most of any nation.
The new research is set to be reported at the Windpower 2009 Conference & Exhibition in Chicago on May 4. The research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through Sandia National Laboratories, a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corp., a Lockheed Martin-attached company, for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.
quote: Notice how Solar stinks in bad weather and Wind stinks in good weather?
quote: Solution: Use both.
quote: They should just make the turbines out of solar cells, and call it a day. ;)
quote: Lot of people asking where Asher went.
quote: biochemical weapons would be a much more cost effective way to kill probably even more people.
quote: you're still living in fear?
quote: good god man, the US has been the most powerfull nation on earth for the past 50 years, at least. and you're still living in fear? you don't see anything wrong with that?
quote: i anticipate that within the next 10 years, we'll see wind turbines (possibly with solar panels on the mast & blades) that are capable of achieving ~10Mwatt power.