NREL Leads Paper Series to Review Wind Energy Research Needs and Propose Actions to Meet Global Decarbonization Goals
Wind power will play a central role in the transition of the world’s electricity supply to renewable sources over the next twenty years. For wind power to fulfill this role, critical challenges related to the design, development, and application of onshore and offshore wind power must be addressed.
“To achieve global decarbonisation goals, we are calling for wind power to increase its contribution to electricity generation from the current 5% to 35% to 50% or more of future electricity demand. This will require research, design and development of wind farms at scale and in locations where we have little experience,” said Paul Veers, a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). “The good news is that the research community has developed a plan to address scientific and technological challenges that can be addressed with appropriate investment.”
As an expression of consensus around these critical issues, Veers and other NREL researchers joined 100 wind energy experts worldwide to write a series of 10 articles to be published in Wind Energy Science. Supported and guided by the European Wind Energy Academy Publications Committee, the articles summarize and clarify the most critical needs for the development of wind energy science. Some articles have already been published; others are planned to be introduced in the coming months.
Veers recently authored a perspective piece explaining the origins and significance of these efforts for Wind Energy Science.
Creation of Great Challenges
This collaborative effort began a few years ago at a meeting of experts from the International Energy Agency’s Wind Technology Cooperation Program, which assessed the “huge challenges” for wind energy to meet its full potential. These challenges include:
- Physics of Atmospheric Flowespecially in the critical zone of wind power plant operation.
- System dynamics and materials wind turbines – the largest, most flexible machines ever built.
- Optimization and management of wind farms consists of hundreds of individual generators operating to support the electrical grid.
Veers et al later a Science journal article outlining the progress, potential and high-level scientific gaps in wind energy. The researchers also noted the intersecting opportunities in digitization and integrated education.
“The Science The article argued that wind energy technology is growing in turbine size, plant scale and grid effects, forcing a reevaluation of the very scientific basis of wind energy,” Veers said. “Wind energy systems are so interconnected that progress in any one area is not enough. Sustainable progress requires attention to all three.”
Later responses to the article pointed out that the focus on physical science issues missed equally critical areas of environmental impact and social interaction.
“Physical, social, and environmental processes interact to influence the growth of wind energy. We are now beginning to assess and understand these competing issues, not just for wind power, but for the energy transition to renewables in general,” said Veers. “Continued research within and across these disciplines is needed to drive customizable solutions that meet local needs and scale to meet regional and global decarbonization goals.”
Taking Grand Challenges to the Next Level
To articulate a more detailed and actionable set of recommendations, the original authors engaged a larger group of experts to take a deeper look at each major issue and provide recommendations on how to address outstanding issues, including environmental and social aspects.
The final collection of Wind Energy Science articles listed below covers the breadth of wind energy research needs and suggests actions to fill critical gaps and ensure that wind energy is the foundation for the energy system of the future.
Grand Challenge 1: Atmosphere
The following Wind Energy Science articles focus on the problem of atmospheric flow physics:
- “Effects of Atmospheric Turbulence on Wind Turbine Performance and Loads: Knowledge Gaps and Research Challenges.” Achieving optimal wind turbine performance and reliability will require a better characterization of turbulence and its effects under the wide range of atmospheric conditions that industrial wind farms are expected to produce continuously and reliably.
- “Mesoscale Wind Plant Wakes Up.” Wakes, or regions of slower and more turbulent air downstream from wind turbines, need to be better understood as to the effects of large-scale deployment of wind energy on local climate.
- “Scientific challenges for characterizing the wind resource in the marine atmospheric boundary layer.” The offshore wind environment needs a broader definition and understanding to optimize offshore wind farms for their local environment.
Grand Challenge 2: Wind Turbine
The following Wind Energy Science article focuses on the problem of wind turbine system dynamics and materials:
- “Grand Challenges in the Design, Manufacturing and Operation of Future Wind Turbine Systems”. The size and flexibility of modern wind turbines has pushed design beyond where assumptions and modeling tools were first established, creating unprecedented risks. Researchers lack the large-scale experimental data needed to validate the models and materials used to develop innovative solutions for future wind energy systems.
Grand Challenge 3: Plant and Network
The following Wind Energy Science articles focus on the problem of optimizing and managing wind farm fleets:
- “Wind Farm Flow Control: Prospects and Challenges.” Controlling airflow through wind farms is a complex problem, but offers opportunities to improve optimal plant design, increase production, reduce maintenance costs, and manage the larger power system demands.
- “Grand Challenges in Wind Energy Science – Grid.” A grid dominated by wind and solar will present system needs that will challenge how we approach the design of individual turbines, wind farms, hybrid power plants, and the grid itself.
The following Wind Energy Science article focuses on the digitization challenge:
- “Grand Challenges in Wind Energy Digitization”. A future where digitalization makes data available at the right places and at the right times has many valuable implications, but significant technical and cultural hurdles must be overcome before this desirable wind energy goal can be achieved.
Beyond technical boundaries: environmental and social issues
The following Wind Energy Science articles focus on environmental and social impact issues:
- “Interdisciplinary Research Challenges in Wind Energy at the Intersection of Engineering and Environmental Sciences.” Environmental studies should determine the effects of large-scale deployment on wildlife and habitats in collaboration with wind turbines and plant engineering.
- “Social Aspects of Wind Energy Development”. The social aspects of the interaction of wind farms with the communities in which they are built and with the communities served by low-cost clean electricity must be addressed. Solutions must evolve beyond acceptance assessment to include participation in planning and design processes and diverse ownership structures to embrace transition as a shared responsibility among community members.
Call to Arms
Articulating the extent of the gaps, required resources, and barriers, the 10 journal articles lead to increased resources to effectively meet the challenge of achieving global decarbonization goals.
“Divesting the global energy system from carbon-based sources will require trillions of dollars of investment in wind energy installations. This change cannot be expected to succeed at current levels of investment in research and development,” said Veers. “By articulating the extent of the gaps, required resources, and barriers, these articles lead to increased resources to effectively respond to the challenges of deploying wind energy everywhere.”
With its open-view approach, Wind Energy Science provides an excellent opportunity for the wind energy community to engage in dialogue on critical research needs and recommendations for solutions, he added.
Join the discussions. Submit your comments through the open review system at Wind Energy Science. To follow the progress of the articles in this series, a link to the landing page of the European Wind Energy Academy will be shared in the perspectives article.
Learn more about NREL’s wind energy science research and stay up to date with news like this by subscribing to The Leading Edge, NREL’s wind energy newsletter.
By Carol Laurie
Article courtesy of the US Department of Energy (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
Do you value CleanTechnica’s originality and clean tech news? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Tech or Ambassador, or a Patron on Patreon.
Don’t want to miss a cleantech story? Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica via email. Or follow us on Google News!
Have a tip about CleanTechnica, want to advertise or suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.