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Collaborations Move Industry Forward, Prove Mutually Beneficial

Photo of the top of a turbine and a crane lowering a piece of hardware onto the nacelle.

Engineers mount a lidar system supplied by the University of Stuttgart on top of the U.S. Department of Energy GE 1.5-megawatt wind turbine as part of the collaborative Full-Scale Wake Steering Project. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL 38280

Collaboration with industry and academic partners is often the key to success for research conducted by the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Two recent projects exemplify the benefits of working closely with organizations that bring different strengths to the table.

One of these projects features collaboration between NREL and GE Global Research, which is advancing its use of NREL’s Simulator fOr Wind Farm Applications (SOWFA). SOWFA is a high-fidelity simulation tool that allows GE and NREL researchers to better understand wind farm flow physics so future wind farms can be more optimally designed. GE is running simulations of a Midwest U.S. wind farm under realistic atmospheric conditions and comparing the simulation output to measured data from the real wind farm. This validation exercise increases confidence in the simulation tool’s capability and identifies areas for improvement, which is helpful for both GE and NREL.

The collaboration is mutually beneficial because GE’s research provides NREL with insight on how SOWFA responds to different model inputs and how it represents the interactions between large-scale (mesoscale) weather and small-scale (microscale) turbulence at the wind farm level. This NREL-GE collaborative research also aligns well with the Energy Department-funded Atmosphere to Electrons (A2e) work that NREL is performing in the area of mesoscale-microscale coupling.

“This collaboration is important because they’re learning from us and we’re gaining their industry perspective to improve our own tools and research,” said NWTC Post-Doctoral Researcher Eliot Quon, who has been working on the project with NREL Senior Engineer Matt Churchfield. “NREL has the tools, such as SOWFA, and expertise that comes from having experts working in the wind energy field for a long time, but industry partners like GE are our connection to the real-world applications of our work. Through collaboration we can better understand how to best support industry efforts.”

Another valuable collaboration is work NWTC researchers are doing with the University of Stuttgart, Delft University of Technology, and the University of Colorado at Boulder using light detection and ranging (lidar) technology to “see” the wake of one turbine and how it affects other turbines.

The Full-Scale Wake Steering Project features a Stuttgart-designed scanning lidar mounted to the Energy Department’s GE 1.5-megawatt (MW) wind turbine located at the NWTC. Unlike previous lidar installations, this lidar mount (designed by NWTC engineers) is motorized to pivot independently from the turbine, enabling researchers to measure the entire turbine wake, even in cases where the turbine has yawed.

“This project is very collaborative, and collaboration allows us to accomplish much more, and more quickly, than we could do on our own,” said NREL Senior Engineer Paul Fleming.

NREL has multiyear collaborations in place with each partner, and each brings its own capability to the project. NREL has the Energy Department’s GE 1.5-MW wind turbine, SOWFA, and expertise with implementing, analyzing, and designing wind farm control strategies. The University of Stuttgart provided the lidar device and supports the project through their lidar-based control expertise. Additionally, Steffen Raach of Stuttgart worked for 3 weeks at the NWTC to support the calibration and installation of the lidar following shipment. Delft University of Technology brought to the partnership models, data, and expertise in dynamic models and control to help NREL model the dynamic behavior of wakes. And, during the project’s analysis phase, the University of Colorado will join in interpreting the data.

“Wind farm control is garnering interest across the industry now, and field validation is important to mature the technology. However, field validation of wind farm control strategies is challenging. In the past, you could evaluate individual wind turbine controls by installing them on one turbine and comparing its performance with other nearby turbines,” Fleming said. “This is more challenging with wind farm control. Everything we learn from these big collaborative projects is beneficial to every partner.”

—Carol Laurie