Letter from the Wind Program Director
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) published the report 20% Wind Energy by 2030, which answered the question, "Is 20% wind energy possible?" Under the leadership of DOE, industry, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), original equipment manufacturers, national labs, nonprofits, transmission organizations, academia, and many others came together to deliver the answer to that question with a resounding yes. Since it was released, the 20% report has had a tremendous impact on changing the national conversation about wind, and thus far, we are on track with annual installations exceeding what was projected as necessary to achieve 20% wind by 2030. Which begs the question, "what's next?" How do we keep the industry growing and increase the energy each new wind plant adds to our electricity supply? These are the questions that we in the Wind Program at DOE are working to answer.
Reflecting on the impact that this report has had and the incredible progress the wind industry has made, DOE, in coordination with many leaders from the industry, including AWEA and the Wind Energy Foundation, has embarked on the development of a new vision to seed future industry growth. As the Wind Program director, I was pleased to have the opportunity to announce this new vision at the AWEA WINDPOWER Conference, and you can read more about it in this newsletter.
As the new wind vision develops over the next year, DOE will also be working with industry, national labs, and members within the academic community to boost the efficiency and reliability of wind plants. As more and larger wind plants are built across the country, researchers are placing greater emphasis on increasing our understanding of how operating wind turbines affect each other, producing wake effects that can reduce wind plant efficiency and exerting stress on turbines and their components, impacting reliability and O&M. To address these challenges, DOE is launching a new initiative that will conduct fundamental research into how turbines interact with wind flows and each other and to develop new wind forecasting methods. The goals of the initiative are to boost efficiency and reliability at the wind plant level and facilitate integration of larger amounts of wind into the electric grid.
According to the results of a workshop conducted by DOE in 2012, wind plant power losses can be as high as 20% to 30%, much of which can be attributed to turbine-to-turbine interactions and other plant-wide phenomenon. In addition, wake effects from these interactions can exert unexpected stresses on turbines and their components. Wind turbine and plant engineers use their best knowledge and resources to account for these effects when designing their products. Despite this, manufacturers, wind plant developers, and operators have encountered cases of components failing before their projected design life and wind plants underperforming, which they believe are due to these effects.
Further, improving our ability to forecast and characterize wind conditions will provide wind plant operators with the data they need to model how wind flows across the wind site and to communicate to grid operators how much energy their plants' turbines will produce. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that improving forecasting accuracy by as little as 10% to 20% could save millions of dollars in annual operational costs.
With the new initiative, DOE is establishing a multi-laboratory research effort—led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories—to tackle the following challenges from multiple directions at once:
- We are working with meteorologists, climatologists, and atmospheric scientists through the Wind Forecasting Improvement Project, to learn as much as we can about our earth's atmosphere, to more accurately characterize and predict wind speed and direction, and to provide more realistic views of the wind energy potential of any given site.
- We are partnering with expert aerodynamicists and using state-of-the-art imaging technology to study how the wind flows through a wind plant and how wind turbine wake effects can impact the overall performance of the plant.
- We are instrumenting turbines at the Scaled Wind Farm Technology (SWiFT) site, the result of a research partnership between DOE, Sandia National Laboratories, and Texas Tech University (TTU). SWiFT, managed by Sandia and located on Texas Tech lands in Lubbock, Texas, offers researchers and developers the opportunity to learn about what happens to a wind turbine that is part of a group of wind turbines.
In short, we are working to optimize the performance of wind plants and improve how we harness the wind to power our society. All of this research will build upon DOE's ongoing efforts to drive innovation in wind turbine components such as rotors, blades, gearboxes, generators, and more.
I am very pleased by all the progress we have made as an industry since 2008—which is tremendous, judging from data in our recently-released 2012 Wind Technologies Market Report and first-ever 2012 Market Report on Wind Technologies in Distributed Applications. Join me and some of the wind industry’s leading experts on Google+ Hangout, an interactive live video chat August 8th at 3 p.m. ET, to discuss industry growth and the innovative projects and technologies that are helping America stay competitive.
I look forward to seeing what we will achieve working together in the coming months and years. You can read more about recent developments and more in this edition of the Wind Program Newsletter. Thank you for your continued service and support.