The Leading Edge: December 2021 Wind Energy Newsletter
In this edition, celebrate 2021 successes, meet a new hire, and read about a landmark wind turbine demonstration.
With the end of 2021 approaching, members of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Wind Energy Program took a look back at some of the accomplishments from the past year across the full gamut of wind energy research. From advancing wind energy science, technologies, and materials to demonstrating thought leadership on a worldwide scale, the National Wind Technology Center played a powerful role in maximizing the impact of wind energy during 2021.
Highlights of NREL's top 2021 wind energy science accomplishments include:
- NREL researchers are developing FlexPower—a variable, hybrid-generation power plant enhanced with energy storage, to be stationed
at the NREL Flatirons Campus. A priority project for the Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems (ARIES) platform, FlexPower will help accelerate the adoption of utility-scale variable wind and photovoltaic
resources by demonstrating how hybrid power plants can smooth the transition to an
electric grid primarily powered by renewable energy.
- NREL released a software tool, which helped identify a wider choice of lightweight
designs with three-dimensional-printable novel compositions for wind turbine generator
magnets. These designs will trim computational time, improve accuracy of performance
predictions, and reduce costs up to 9% compared to existing approaches.
- An NREL team used the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) ExaWind simulation environment to perform a validation-quality simulation of a 2-megawatt wind turbine and perform high-fidelity atmospheric boundary layer and offshore marine atmospheric boundary layer simulations over waves. This work enables better understanding of wind turbine wake formation and propagation and helps reduce wind power plant energy losses and costs.
These examples represent just the tip of the blade when it comes to NREL's 2021 wind energy achievements. To understand the full sweep of NREL's Wind Energy Program wins in 2021, read the Accomplishments and Year-End Performance Report.
Engineer Reflects on First Year in Distributed Wind Energy at NREL
This December, Brent Summerville is celebrating his first anniversary at NREL. Although he's relatively new, he's already helping develop standards for permitting designs in wind energy systems, enabling innovative technologies to become competitive in the market.
"From wind turbine concept to final certification, the design methodologies and testing requirements in the standards can serve as a tool for innovation, if done properly, or a market barrier, if the standards are overly onerous," Summerville said.
Soon, Summerville will lead a group of global experts in a revision cycle to optimize standards and reduce unnecessary and potentially cumbersome technological roadblocks, using extensive experience in standards development from a previous role as technical director of the Small Wind Certification Council.
In addition, Summerville is working on NREL's Competitiveness Improvement Project, which provides funding to manufacturers of distributed wind energy technology for research aimed at developing a prototype, optimizing a current design, or certifying their wind turbine—steps that are vital, he says, for keeping U.S. companies competitive in the distributed energy market. He has also just taken on the role of NREL's lead to DOE's Defense and Disaster Deployable Turbine Project. The purpose of the project, which is led by Sandia National Laboratories, as the name indicates, is to develop wind turbines that can be deployed quickly to help with humanitarian or military responses in disaster or defense scenarios.
Summerville's passion for renewable energy sprouted when he discovered a friend's copy of Home Power magazine around 1995. The potential of wind, solar, hydropower, and electric vehicles inspired him to transition from his career in manufacturing to renewable energy technologies.
"I hit the road in my 1987 Volkswagen Westfalia in search of a graduate school with a renewable energy program," Summerville said. "I landed at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, where I earned my master's in appropriate technology and where I still live today."
Despite the distance from NREL's Golden office and Flatirons Campus, Summerville collaborated extensively with NREL researchers before they became colleagues, and that professional familiarity allowed him to immediately jump into his projects. Since arriving at the lab just over a year ago, he's co-authored a publication outlining the justification to update the Small Wind Turbine Standard.
"I've had the pleasure of working with NREL staff and researchers throughout my career, and I am always impressed with the level of quality and impactful work from the lab," Summerville said. "I'm very excited to now be a part of the team."
On the Radar
In a milestone for renewable energy integration, NREL and partner General Electric have operated a common class of wind turbines in grid-forming mode, which is when the generator can set grid voltage and frequency, and if necessary, operate without power from the electric grid. This demonstration showed that the popular Type 3 turbine technology can supply fundamental stability to the bulk power grid.
"This is another example of how inverter-based energy resources like wind and solar can fulfill a wider role in future power systems," said NREL Chief Engineer Vahan Gevorgian.
In earlier phases of the project, NREL developed a full-detail model of the wind turbine's electrodynamics, aided by a custom toolkit developed by the NREL research team and powered on the grid-forming turbine using the the ARIES platform.
The International Energy Agency Wind Technology Collaboration Programme (IEA Wind) has released the IEA Wind TCP 2020 Annual Report, which summarizes how member countries—including the United States—benefit from wind energy. The U.S. country chapter, written by NREL and DOE communications staff, provides a roundup of U.S. wind energy data and activities.
NREL Wind Energy Laboratory Program Manager Brian Smith serves as vice chair and U.S. alternate member of the IEA Wind Executive Committee, and NREL researchers participate in 21 of the 24 IEA Wind research tasks and lead 12 of the tasks. This work helps strengthen the nation's presence and influence among member countries, the European Commission, the Chinese Wind Energy Association, and WindEurope.
Downwind: In Case You Missed It
Arlinda Huskey was recently featured in an NREL Facebook post with the hashtag #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth. Arlinda is a member of the Diné (Navajo) people. A mechanical engineer at the National Wind Technology Center at NREL's Flatirons Campus, she manages a group of researchers who conduct structural, electrical, system, and field validation and characterization of wind, solar, and marine energy systems and components. She has been at NREL since 1995 with some of her work involving field testing the noise, power performance, and loads of large wind turbines, as well as small turbines, which she also tests for function, durability, and safety.
In October, DOE published the Atlantic Offshore Wind Transmission Literature Review and Gaps Analysis, which features contributions from NREL co-authors and summarizes publicly available transmission analyses along the Atlantic Coast. Building off that, DOE's Wind Energy Technologies Office is launching a study of transmission options to support the rapid and planned growth of offshore wind energy development along the U.S. East Coast through 2050. The 2-year study, covered by several media outlets (see NREL in the News below), will be conducted by researchers at NREL and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
NextEra Wants To Build Offshore Wind Transmission for New York and New Jersey
As a subsidiary of NextEra Energy looks to gain permission to address transmission that could help expand wind energy projects off the coasts of New York and New Jersey, Power Engineering reported on a new study from NREL and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with support from DOE. The study, the Atlantic Offshore Wind Transmission Study, will investigate the potential growth and requirements for transmission of offshore clean power.
Fact Check: Wind Turbine Blades Can Be Recycled, But It Rarely Happens Today
Covering advances in wind turbine blade manufacturing that help improve their recyclability, USA Today spoke to NREL researchers about recyclable wind turbine blades and their status and potential in the wind energy industry and academia. In the article, Eric Lantz, a wind energy analysis manager at NREL, speaks about the need for more research and development to bring wind turbine blade recycling capabilities to market. The article also quotes Aubryn Cooperman, a mechanical engineer at NREL, who cites a May 2021 study on the status of wind turbine blade materials that she led about decommissioned wind turbine waste. The article then proceeds to highlight some of NREL's prototypes and quotes Robynne Murray, a research engineer who works on advanced composite manufacturing processes and materials, about their promise in improving blade reuse.
Next Generation of Wind Turbines
Writing for Alternative Energy Magazine, Raj Shah and Muqsit Khan from the Koehler Instrument Co. discussed solutions researchers from NREL and DOE are working on to address concerns between offshore wind energy and in air and underwater ecosystems. This included NREL's work on modeling environmental effects and manufacturing and recyclability of wind turbine blades, with citations to NREL program news articles and websites.
The NREL Wind Energy Program recently published the Accomplishments and Year-End Performance Report, which summarizes the National Wind Technology Center's Fiscal Year 2021 wind-energy-related scientific and research achievements. The report highlights activities, largely supported with funding from DOE's Wind Energy Technologies Office, that advance U.S. wind energy systems, address market and deployment barriers, and drive down costs with more efficient, reliable, and accessible wind energy.
Despite the benefits, construction and installation of renewable energy plants can be costly. For wind energy plants, as much as 30% of capital expenditure goes toward balance of system (BOS) costs. For solar power plants, it’s as much as 40%. Combining wind and solar energy in the same plant enables better-performing power plants and unlocks cost savings from sharing of infrastructure between various technologies in the hybrid power plant. Researchers at NREL have created a model that helps utility-scale developers design hybrid power plants, estimate their BOS costs, and compare the BOS costs with standalone wind and solar power plants of the same plant capacities. In a new report, Potential Infrastructure Cost Savings at Hybrid Wind Plus Solar PV Plants, NREL researchers introduce and describe Hybrids Balance-of-System Systems Engineering (HybridBOSSE), an open-source hybrid plant design and cost estimation tool that builds on previous models that are limited by scope and data. HybridBOSSE enables users to analyze new technology combinations and configurations, including grid connectivity and optimal mix of wind and solar by capacity to aid in their decision making. In its analysis, the team found that hybrid plants with wind plus solar photovoltaics could cut the plant’s BOS cost by as much as 16%, equivalent to 4% in total savings. By exploring a wider range of scenarios for hybridization with the help of HybridBOSSE, the energy industry can look to a renewable energy future with lower-cost, better-performing, and more reliable renewable energy plants.
Wind power plants can impact local atmospheric conditions through their wakes, characterized by reduced wind speed and increased turbulence. In this article published in Nature Scientific Reports, NREL researchers assessed the wind plant wake effect on local atmospheric conditions at DOE's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Southern Great Plains observatory in northern Oklahoma. Both the team's simulations and direct observations demonstrated that the wind power plant caused a reduction in wind speed at hub height, especially in stable conditions, and a wind speed acceleration near the surface. By assessing the characteristics of these wakes and quantifying the impact of wind energy deployment near this and other long-term weather and climate observatories, this research will help drive progress in the wind energy sector and meet future energy demand.
A collaborative study by NREL, Sandia National Laboratories, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicates that low-specific-power wind turbines can reduce levelized cost of energy, provide more reliable energy to the grid in lower wind conditions, and provide value beyond traditional levelized-cost-of-energy metrics. The Big Adaptive Rotor Phase I Final Report, summarizes the findings from the 3-year project that suggest low-specific-power configurations could eventually be a market leader for land-based wind turbines. These turbines have catalyzed substantial reductions in the cost of wind energy because of an increase in rotor size that creates a greater swept area, helping wind power plants more consistently capture wind energy and access higher wind speeds at elevated heights. The project also addressed issues synonymous with larger wind turbines, specifically discussing the logistical challenges of developing large (>70-meter) land-based wind turbine blades, addressing the cost-effectiveness of deploying larger rotors, and optimizing carbon-fiber materials necessary for large wind turbines. Proposed solutions to the technical and logistical challenges of low-specific-power turbines will be further studied in Phase II of the Big Adaptive Rotor Project.
Wind energy researchers have found that turbulence—which fatigues wind turbines' mechanical components and impacts wind farm efficiency through wind-turbine wake effects—takes space to become fully developed on the microscale simulation volume. The discovery was made when performing high-fidelity, turbulence-resolving, microscale simulations of wind-farm flows, with inflow driven by regional-scale, mesoscale model solutions that do not contain resolved turbulence. The flow solution in this region, known as "fetch," cannot be used but still incurs computational cost. With a goal of reducing fetch, and therefore computational cost, researchers often superimpose perturbations, or fractional wind speed and temperature variations, onto the incoming nonturbulent mesoscale model flow to speed up turbulence development. In an article published in Energies, the authors showed that, while it is often assumed that rugged terrain itself can generate turbulence and reduce fetch without the assistance of an inflow perturbation strategy, even in that situation, the addition of perturbations at the upwind side of the simulation volume is beneficial and reduces fetch. This research provides concrete best practices to other researchers performing high-fidelity flow modeling, helping to improve the quality of wind-farm flow simulation by others in this field.
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