Supercomputing Drives Wind Power Efficiency

By Tiffany Trader

October 9, 2014

Wind power is is on track to achieve cost parity with fossil fuels thanks in part to the open-source software tool Simulator for Wind Farm Applications (SOWFA) being developed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

“Wind energy is blowing away skeptics,” according to a recent NREL article. “It’s so close to achieving cost parity with fossil fuels that just a little extra efficiency is all that is likely needed to push it into the mainstream and past the Energy Department’s goal of 20% wind energy by 2030.”

Researchers at NREL are counting on SOWFA to provide this additional boost in efficiency. The software enables high-fidelity analysis of wind turbine and wind plant performance under a full range of atmospheric and land conditions.

SOWFA is the first tool to move beyond the level of the individual turbine to include an entire wind farm. It also takes account of more variables, including the topography, the airflow, surface and air temperatures, and the effects of the turbines themselves. In order to maximize energy output, the model has to be as complete as possible. It’s only recently that supercomputers have the necessary power to simulate such complex models.

Thanks to advances in supercomputing power, it is now possible to simulate an extensive range of scales from regional weather patterns down to the space between turbines and even to the level of electrons. The result is a complete picture of an active plant, depicting how each turbine can influence the direction of the wakes, which then influence downwind turbines. The aim is to arrive at the most accurate forecasts of wind energy production before the turbines are erected. The research team relied on NREL’s Peregrine high performance computer to carry out these extensive simulations.

The insight provided by the software will guide where wind farms are sited and where the individual turbines are positioned. Once the wind farms are operational, the individual turbines can be controlled to reduce wake fatigue and maximize plant-wide output. Wake losses can reduce overall power production by as much as 10 percent. Cutting these losses in half would be a huge boon to the industry, adding up to billions of dollars in recovered energy worldwide.

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