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A New Spin On "Intelligent" Wind Energy

A handful of Danish organizations are exploring how to apply wireless sensor technology made ubiquitous in the consumer electronics world onto wind turbine blades to better predict changes in wind and adjust the turbine's operation, optimizing energy yield and minimizing loads on the structure.

The project "combines two of Denmark's most prominent areas of expertise and strengths: wireless radio technology and wind," quipped Lene Mi Ran Kristiansen, communications manager from LM Wind Power which is spearheading the three-and-a-half year research project with PolyTech, kk-electronic, and the U. of Aalborg. (An Aalborg researcher was among the first to identify the iPhone 4's external antenna problem back in 2010.) The Danish Advanced Technology Foundation is providing half the total funding of DKK 65 million, or around €8.7 million.

GE has been broadcasting its message of higher-IQ wind turbines and entire wind farms, but this project speaks to a more localized intelligence: improving the output of individual turbines by better predicting wind changes and adjusting turbine performance to them. While revealing few details, Kristiansen and LM Wind senior manager Claus Byskov explained this will be "based on wireless radio network technology applied on the blade and connected to the control system of the turbine, allowing it to adapt operations according to the data it receives."

Applying sensors to wind turbines isn't new, but the technology has been very specifically developed for this application and isn't very cost-efficient, they point out. The hope is that using wireless technology from the consumer electronics field, already developed for robustness and scale, can both outperform those wind-specific sensors and bring costs way down. Smarter, more reliable harvesting of wind energy with minimized loads on the turbine could lead to the development of more powerful turbines with longer blades without needing to strengthen the turbine structure, thus avoiding more costs.

In terms of end goals, this project will be "quite comparable to what we tried to achieve" with a previous project also in partnership with the Danish Advanced Technology Foundation: integrating LIDAR into the blades and spinner to better predict wind direction, gusts, and turbulence, and from that proactively adjust the turbine's positioning to improve load control and reliability. That LIDAR integration sought to increase turbine-level energy production by 5 percent, but "we expect more from this new project not least in terms of reduced cost," the LM Wind reps said.

Lead image: Reaction to high winds via Shutterstock

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