Snow Lets Scientists Study Real-World Turbulence From Wind Turbines
Engineers in the Midwest have been using the region’s bone-chilling winters to their advantage. Unhappy with the computer modelling and small wind tunnels normally used to study how spinning wind turbines interact with the air around them, they turned to the weatherman.
The team from the University of Minnesota and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign set up a powerful light behind a full-sized 2.5 megawatt, 260-foot-tall wind turbine and waited for snow. When a heavy storm eventually started blanketing the area, they recorded how the turbine’s spinning blades left turbulent airflow and swirling vortices behind it.
The snowflakes acted as flow tracers in the turbulent wind and provided the researchers with a new method to understand what happens when the machines operate. The results could be used to fine-tune machine-level and wind farm construction to make both more efficient at harvesting energy from the air.