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A new radar prototype that can provide better measurements of the complex flow conditions in wind plants is now under development.

Existing wind farms nominally are underperforming relative to expectations, said John Schroeder, a Texas Tech professor of atmospheric sciences and principal investigator for the project, which just received $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE). His team is focusing on developing a new prototype that enhances data availability, and provides semi-autonomous operation. The enhanced information about flow conditions within a wind plant enables proactive controls that minimize turbine-to-turbine interaction and maximize power generation.

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“Wind farms are not putting out as much power as we would expect from them,” Schroeder said. “With a better understanding of how turbines interact with each other, we may be able to make small adjustments that could be worth millions of dollars.”

Having the information before the wind farm end up built could make operations better from the start through strategic turbine spacing and placement. Schroeder said the real opportunity would be in enhancing existing wind farms, where subtle changes in the wake of one upstream turbine could positively impact others downstream.

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To fully understand turbine behavior, there must be careful measurements. Existing radar platforms have seen use extensively in meteorological applications but are problematic since they emit electro-magnetic radiation that must bounce off an object to return data.

“The amount of energy that comes back is proportionate to the diameter of what’s out there, such as rain, snow or even birds,” Schroeder said. “In a wind farm setting, there will be large towers and rotating blades contaminating the data. The challenge is in measuring the motion of the air while filtering out those influences.”

The team will spend 18 months developing the new design that will focus on enhancing clear air sensitivity relative to the currently available radar system. A system that does not rely on precipitation to generate returns provides for more diverse application. Semi-autonomous operation will also enable long term deployments at varying onshore and offshore locations around the world.

This project complements DoE’s ongoing Atmosphere to Electrons (A2e) Initiative, which aims to improve wind plant performance by increasing understanding of how wind moves throughout wind farms.

“Our goal is to finish the blueprint for commercialization of this technology, and place it in the hands of users in the industry,” Schroeder said. “If successful, it wouldn’t take long to have a positive impact on lowering the cost of wind energy.”

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