Algorithms Help Turbines Share the Wind

| July 1, 2019

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Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” So declares Spock, Star Trek’s Vulcan hero, as he sacrifices himself to save the Starship Enterprise and its crew in the 1982 film Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Today Stanford University researchers presented the clearest proof to date that self-sacrifice can also benefit wind farms. In their demonstration at an Alberta wind farm, one turbine sacrifices a fifth of its generating potential to enable better performance by neighboring turbines, boosting the group's collective output. And while Spock's heroics necessitated a major plot twist to revive his character for the next Star Trek sequel, teaching turbines to behave altruistically requires just a small (but intelligent) tweak to their control systems. What they learn is how to share the wind. Like parasols casting shadows, spinning rotors in a wind farm cast an energy-depleted "wake" that can slow downstream turbines. The resulting lost energy can be 10 percent or more of a wind farm's annual power generation. At Denmark's Horns Rev offshore wind farm, wake losses cut annual energy production by a hefty 20 percent [photo above].

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