The Leading Edge: August 2021 Wind Energy Newsletter

In this edition, a spark of brilliance helps prevent lightning damage to wind turbines, students discuss their summer internships at NREL, and new resources for potential wind energy projects go online.

News Stories

Lightning No Match for Wind Turbine Blade Protection System

NREL scientists recently developed a lightning protection system for wind turbine blades. Made from a new type of more easily recyclable material—thermoplastic resin composites—the blades are manufactured with a new, patent-pending thermal welding process.

Created in partnership with General Electric and LM Wind Power and with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Technology Commercialization Fund, the wind turbine “lightning shield” can divert about 80% of a lightning strike’s current away from the metal heating elements to prevent catastrophic damage or failure.

lightning storm over wind turbines

Sparking research. NREL researchers designed a way to protect thermally welded wind turbine blades from catastrophic failure caused by lightning strikes. The research makes commercializing this technology more likely.

Behind the Blades

Meet the Interns

As this summer comes to a close, students participating in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program are wrapping up their contributions to exciting, ongoing wind energy research at NREL. Here’s a peek at a few of the hard-working interns our researchers had the pleasure of mentoring.

For his SULI project, Dakota Sky Potere-Ramos developed a floating platform model for an offshore reference wind turbine, with which he obtained a design with the lowest lifetime cost-to- energy-production ratio that will be used as the base design for future optimization and validation work. Majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in mathematics, Potere-Ramos is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He was mentored at NREL by John Jasa and said he most enjoyed the program’s intern-mentor discussion series. “These meetings allowed me to learn from and collaborate with a group of researchers of varied backgrounds and research fields,” he explained.

Anna Clark, an engineering physics student at Stanford University in the class of 2023, focused her efforts on improving the sampling approach that generates data used to train surrogate models, decreasing computational costs and increasing user access to reliability-based wind farm optimization modeling. “I really enjoyed learning about the math behind the method Dr. Clark and I ended up choosing to optimize our sampling approach!” Clark said, referring to her NREL mentor, Caitlyn Clark.

This summer, Michael LoCascio developed a formulation to determine time-averaged wake velocity for his SULI project, which will speed up annual wind farm energy production calculations in optimization studies. LoCascio, a second-year graduate student in mechanical engineering at Stanford University who was mentored by Luis “Tony” Martínez Tossas and Christopher Bay, said his favorite part of the experience was the premeeting banter. “It was a welcome relief and a complement to the stimulating and engaging technical work that follows,” he said. “The approachable environment makes me want to return to work here someday!”

Three smiling students

Student input. (From left to right) Dakota Sky Potere-Ramos, Anna Clark, and Michael LoCascio and several other students contributed to NREL wind energy research this summer as part of the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship program. Photos from the students

On the Radar

Pie chart of five Economic Development Guide themes

Guiding wind. The Land-Based Wind Energy Economic Development Guide is a WINDExchange resource and technical assistance tool. Graphic by John Frenzl, NREL

New Resources Help Communities Weigh Benefits, Costs of Wind Energy

Wind energy projects offer a wide range of benefits to nearby communities, including job creation, revenue for landowners, and an increased tax base. But every project is different, and communities have many variables to consider when deciding if wind energy is right for them. To help local decision makers determine whether a wind energy project is right for their community, DOE's WINDExchange initiative has released two resources: a report titled Land-Based Wind Energy Siting: A Foundational and Technical Resource and an online Land-Based Wind Energy Economic Development Guide.

Funded by DOE's Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO) and created by experts at NREL, these comprehensive, easy-to-read resources provide useful information about the siting considerations and economic opportunities associated with a potential wind energy project.

Read more on DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy blog.

Downwind: In Case You Missed It

Eight Small Businesses Selected To Advance Distributed Wind Energy

The distributed wind industry, which brings wind energy closer to users, needs to reduce costs and increase customer confidence. But many companies that build these wind turbines lack the resources to develop and certify their next-generation technology. That’s why WETO works with small businesses across the United States to advance wind technology as a distributed energy resource through the Competitiveness Improvement Project, managed by NREL. On Aug. 3, 2021, DOE announced the eight small businesses that will help develop cost-effective, grid-supported, and reliable distributed wind energy technologies that have grid-supporting capabilities and compatibility with hybrid energy systems.

Engaging Autopilot: NREL Explores Automation in Wind Technology Manufacturing

Industrial robot arm

Robotic reach. Wind turbine blade manufacturing can benefit from automation. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL

A robot with a 3-meter arm could help build better-quality, lower-cost wind turbine blades. At NREL’s Composites Manufacturing Education and Technology facility, researchers are exploring the possibility of automating the wind turbine blade-finishing process. Automation could increase the size and quality of these utility-scale blades while keeping workers safe and decreasing engineering and manufacturing challenges.

To complete this work, NREL partnered with General Electric Renewables/LM Wind Power, the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, and DOE's Advanced Manufacturing Office. This news was also covered by LM Wind Power, CleanTechnicareNEWS, Renewable Energy Magazine, Composites World, and others.

Gulf of Mexico Offshore Wind Plant Moves Closer to Reality

A 600-megawatt wind power plant in the Gulf of Mexico could generate thousands of jobs and millions of dollars annually, according to a 2020 report from NREL and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. This report, The National Law Review wrote in a recent news article, supports a new, federal request issued to gauge interest in offshore wind energy development in the Gulf of Mexico. The article quotes NREL researcher Walt Musial: “As we seek to diversify the U.S. energy supply using ocean renewable resources, we are finding that the existing oil and gas industries in the Gulf are able to leverage their vast ocean-based capabilities to expand their businesses and capitalize on these new energy opportunities.”

Recent Webinars

Advantages of Distributed Wind and Its Important Role in the Energy Mix

NREL's distributed wind research capabilities span from design, modeling, and simulation to resource characterization and analysis and, finally, to manufacturing. Now, through the Wind Energy Science Leadership Webinar Series, NREL's world-class experts weigh in on topics to advance the distributed wind industry. In the latest recording, learn how distributed wind can reduce costs and improve small-scale wind turbine plant performance.

Fixed-Bottom Offshore Wind Energy Technology

In a recent webinar, hosted by WETO's WINDExchange program, NREL researcher Walt Musial provided an overview of the foundation technology of offshore, fixed-bottom wind turbines. 

Recent Publications

Proceedings of the 2021 Airborne Wind Energy Workshop

In response to language set forth in The Energy Act of 2020, WETO and NREL hosted a virtual technical workshop in March 2021 to explore the potential for, and technical viability of, airborne wind energy (AWE) systems as means to provide a significant source of energy in the United States. Attended by more than 100 experts and interested parties, the workshop provided relevant, primarily U.S. stakeholders from industry, government, national laboratories, and academia with the opportunity to “evaluate the status, development potential, and technical viability of AWE systems,” which is the conversion of wind energy into electricity using tethered flying devices. A report summarizes the key findings discovered during the workshop, including AWE's energy potential, technology needs, societal and environmental impacts, economic considerations, and research, development, validation, and commercialization needs.

Instrument on a wind turbine

A lidar instrument installed on the nacelle of a wind turbine measures the wake produced behind the wind turbine. Photo by Andrew Scholbrock, NREL

Results From a Wake Steering Experiment at a Commercial Wind Plant: Investigating the Wind Speed Dependence of Wake Steering Performance

In this Wind Energy Science journal article, the authors present results from a 3-month wake steering experiment at a commercial wind plant involving two wind turbines spaced 3.7 rotor diameters apart. The authors estimated that, during the experiment period, wake steering reduced wake losses by 5.7% for the wind direction sector investigated. After the authors applied a long-term correction to the expected long-term wind conditions for the site, the reduction in wake losses increased to 9.8%. In addition, the authors compared the measured performance of wake steering to predictions using NREL’s FLOw Redirection and Induction in Steady State (FLORIS) wind farm control tool coupled with a wind direction variability model and found that, when incorporating the predicted achieved yaw offsets, estimates of the energy improvement from wake steering using FLORIS closely match the experimental results.

Specification Document for OC6 Phase II: Verification of an Advanced Soil-Structure Interaction Model for Offshore Wind Turbines

In 2018, as part of the REDucing cost of offshore WINd by integrated structural and geotechnical design project (REDWIN), the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute developed a model to assess the soil structure of the seafloor. This model can be used to plan and standardize offshore wind turbine development. After integrating REDWIN's new capability with other modeling tools used to design fixed-bottom offshore wind systems, researchers verified the integration with a sample case system. Now, NREL researchers have released a report that provides the details that went into modeling that sample case system, which can be used with REDWIN’s and other modeling approaches.