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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2013-03-18 10:30:00
  • Article ID: 600464

Research Suggests Scientists have Overestimated Capacity of Wind Farms to Generate Power

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – March 18, 2013 - People think of wind as an energy source with few limits, offering an unending power source with distinct capacity advantages over sources that deplete, such as fossil fuel.

Yet, new research in mesoscale atmospheric modeling by UNC Charlotte's Amanda S. Adams and Harvard University's David W. Keith, published Monday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, suggests that the power capacity of large-scale wind farms may have been significantly overestimated.

With large-scale wind farms, as many as hundreds of turbines mounted on tall towers and connected to the electrical grid capture the kinetic energy of the wind. Each wind turbine creates a "wind shadow" behind it, in which the turning blades slow the air. In an effort to reduce the impact of the wind shadows, wind farms space the turbines apart, while still locating as many turbines as they can on the land.

Current estimates of the global wind power resource over land range from 56 to 400 terawatts. Most of these estimates assume implicitly that the turbines extracting the wind energy have little impact on the atmosphere and, therefore, little effect on the energy production.

The new research says that scientists have underestimated the impact that large numbers of wind turbines have on energy production within large farms. Estimates of wind capacity that ignore the effect of wind turbine drag on local winds have assumed that wind power production of 2 and 4 watts per square meter could be sustained over large areas.

The new modeling results suggest that the generating capacity is more likely limited to about 1 watt per square meter at wind farms that are larger than 100 square kilometers.

"It's easy to mistake the term renewable with the term unlimited when discussing energy," said Adams who is lead author. "Just because you can keep generating new energy from a source does not mean you can generate energy in an unlimited amount."

The research suggests the potential for wind energy could be significantly less than previously thought.

"It's important to take into account all factors impacting the wind energy, so we can assess the capacity of this critical power resource," Adams said. "One of the inherent challenges is how harvesting the resource changes it, making it difficult to accurately calculate how much energy can be produced. The modeling we have done provides information that can help in the understanding of our ability to count on renewable energy sources."

The research also considers the impact of wind energy production on temperatures and by extension possibly climate. Wind farms change the natural wind shear and produce various scales of turbulence. Higher potential temperatures are mixed downward due to this turbulence and result in low level warming, the research indicates.

"Our research suggests that how densely the turbines are placed affects not only energy production but also environmental impacts," Adams said. "We see this impact on average temperatures not only at large-scale farms, but also in small-density wind farms. Some things to consider are the magnitude of temperature changes and also the size of the area affected. We think these findings indicate that additional research is needed in these areas."

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada funded the research.

Adams' primary research interests focus on mesoscale phenomena, processes, and modeling with an emphasis on phenomena that involve boundary layer processes and/or topographic influences. In recent years, she and her research group at UNC Charlotte have focused on the link between small-scale processes and climate, particularly at the atmosphere and earth surface interface. Her research group concentrates primarily on question at the interface between energy, weather and climate.

Current questions her group is addressing include: How will large scale wind energy development impact the Great Plains low level jet? What are the meteorological conditions that lead to wind turbine icing? How does temperature variability in urban areas impact electricity demand? Can we quantify the risks of off shore wind turbines to hurricanes? The energy-related research that Adams' group is conducting includes collaborations with San Diego Gas & Electric, Xcel Energy, and the Weather Underground.

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Media Relations Contact: Buffie Stephens, 704-687-5830, buffiestephens@uncc.edu

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Contact: Lynn Roberson, 704-687-0082, LynnRoberson@uncc.edu

Source: Amanda Adams, 704-687-5984, manda.adams@uncc.edu

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Microbe Mystery Solved: What Happened to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Plume

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is one of the most studied spills in history, yet scientists haven't agreed on the role of microbes in eating up the oil. Now a research team at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has identified all of the principal oil-degrading bacteria as well as their mechanisms for chewing up the many different components that make up the released crude oil.

New Class of 'Soft' Semiconductors Could Transform HD Displays

New research by Berkeley Lab scientists could help usher in a new generation of high-definition displays, optoelectronic devices, photodetectors, and more. They have shown that a class of "soft" semiconductors can be used to emit multiple, bright colors from a single nanowire at resolutions as small as 500 nanometers. The work could challenge quantum dot displays that rely upon traditional semiconductor nanocrystals to emit light.

Could This Strategy Bring High-Speed Communications to the Deep Sea?

A new strategy for sending acoustic waves through water could potentially open up the world of high-speed communications to divers, marine research vessels, remote ocean monitors, deep sea robots, and submarines. By taking advantage of the dynamic rotation generated as the acoustic wave travels, also known as its orbital angular momentum, Berkeley Lab researchers were able to pack more channels onto a single frequency, effectively increasing the amount of information capable of being transmitted.

2-D Material's Traits Could Send Electronics R&D Spinning in New Directions

Researchers created an atomically thin material at Berkeley Lab and used X-rays to measure its exotic and durable properties that make it a promising candidate for a budding branch of electronics known as "spintronics."

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Ames Lab Scientists' Surprising Discovery: Making Ferromagnets Stronger by Adding Non-Magnetic Element

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Scientists at Berkeley Lab and Michigan State University are providing the clearest view yet of an intact bacterial microcompartment, revealing at atomic-level resolution the structure and assembly of the organelle's protein shell. This work can help provide important information for research in bioenergy, pathogenesis, and biotechnology.


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The Electrochemical Society and Toyota North America Announce 2017-2018 Fellowship Winners for Projects in Green Energy Technology

The ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship Selection Committee has chosen three winners who will receive $50,000 fellowship awards each for projects in green energy technology. The awardees are Dr. Ahmet Kusoglu, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Professor Julie Renner, Case Western Reserve University; and Professor Shuhui Sun, Institut National de la Rechersche Scientifique (INRS).

Chicago Quantum Exchange to Create Technologically Transformative Ecosystem

The University of Chicago is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to launch an intellectual hub for advancing academic, industrial and governmental efforts in the science and engineering of quantum information.

Department of Energy Awards Six Research Contracts Totaling $258 Million to Accelerate U.S. Supercomputing Technology

Today U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that six leading U.S. technology companies will receive funding from the Department of Energy's Exascale Computing Project (ECP) as part of its new PathForward program, accelerating the research necessary to deploy the nation's first exascale supercomputers.

Cynthia Jenks Named Director of Argonne's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division

Argonne has named Cynthia Jenks the next director of the laboratory's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division. Jenks currently serves as the assistant director for scientific planning and the director of the Chemical and Biological Sciences Division at Ames Laboratory.

Argonne-Developed Technology for Producing Graphene Wins TechConnect National Innovation Award

A method that significantly cuts the time and cost needed to grow graphene has won a 2017 TechConnect National Innovation Award. This is the second year in a row that a team at Argonne's Center for Nanoscale Materials has received this award.

Honeywell UOP and Argonne Seek Research Collaborations in Catalysis Under Technologist in Residence Program

Researchers at Argonne are collaborating with Honeywell UOP scientists to explore innovative energy and chemicals production.

Follow the Fantastic Voyage of the ICARUS Neutrino Detector

The ICARUS neutrino detector, born at Gran Sasso National Lab in Italy and refurbished at CERN, will make its way across the sea to Fermilab this summer. Follow along using an interactive map online.

JSA Awards Graduate Fellowships for Research at Jefferson Lab

Jefferson Sciences Associates announced today the award of eight JSA/Jefferson Lab graduate fellowships. The doctoral students will use the fellowships to support their advanced studies at their universities and conduct research at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) - a U.S. Department of Energy nuclear physics laboratory managed and operated by JSA, a joint venture between SURA and PAE Applied Technologies.

Muon Magnet's Moment Has Arrived

On May 31, the 50-foot-wide superconducting electromagnet at the center of the Muon g-2 experiment saw its first beam of muon particles from Fermilab's accelerators, kicking off a three-year effort to measure just what happens to those particles when placed in a stunningly precise magnetic field. The answer could rewrite scientists' picture of the universe and how it works.

Seven Small Businesses to Collaborate with Argonne to Solve Technical Challenges

Seven small businesses have been selected to collaborate with researchers at Argonne to address technical challenges as part of DOE's Small Business Vouchers Program.


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New Class of Porous Materials Better Separates Carbon Dioxide from Other Gases

Enhanced stability in the presence of water could help reduce smokestack emissions of greenhouse gases.

Manipulating Earth-Abundant Materials to Harness the Sun's Energy

New material based on common iron ore can help turn intermittent sunlight and water into long-lasting fuel.

Oxygen: The Jekyll and Hyde of Biofuels

Scientists are devising ways to protect plants, biofuels and, ultimately, the atmosphere itself from damage caused by an element that sustains life on earth.

The Rise of Giant Viruses

Research reveals that giant viruses acquire genes piecemeal from others, with implications for bioenergy production and environmental cleanup.

Grasses: The Secrets Behind Their Success

Researchers find a grass gene affecting how plants manage water and carbon dioxide that could be useful to growing biofuel crops on marginal land.

New Perspectives Into Arctic Cloud Phases

Teamwork provides insight into complicated cloud processes that are important to potential environmental changes in the Arctic.

Mountaintop Plants and Soils to Become Out of Sync

Plants and soil microbes may be altered by climate warming at different rates and in different ways, meaning vital nutrient patterns could be misaligned.

If a Tree Falls in the Amazon

For the first time, scientists pinpointed how often storms topple trees, helping to predict how changes in Amazonia affect the world.

Turning Waste into Fuels, Microbial Style

A newly discovered metabolic process linking different bacteria in a community could enhance bioenergy production.

Department of Energy Awards Six Research Contracts Totaling $258 Million to Accelerate U.S. Supercomputing Technology

Today U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that six leading U.S. technology companies will receive funding from the Department of Energy's Exascale Computing Project (ECP) as part of its new PathForward program, accelerating the research necessary to deploy the nation's first exascale supercomputers.


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