Windbreaks, surprisingly, could help wind farms boost power output

Low walls in front of turbines could improve performance by 10 percent, simulations show

a row of windmills in Taiwan

Windbreaks could help wind farms pump out more power. Low walls in front of turbines, like these in Taiwan, could speed up gusts at the height of the turbine, computer simulations suggest.

CHENG FENG CHIANG/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Windbreaks may sound like a counterintuitive idea for boosting the performance of a wind turbine. But physicists report that low walls that block wind could actually help wind farms produce more power.

Scientists already knew that the output of a single wind turbine could be improved with a windbreak. While windbreaks slow wind speed close to the ground, above the height of the windbreak, wind speeds actually increase as air rushes over the top. But for large wind farms, there’s a drawback. A windbreak’s wake slows the flow of air as it travels farther through the rows of turbines. That could suggest that windbreaks would be a wash for wind farms with many turbines.

But by striking a balance between these competing effects, windbreaks placed in front of each turbine can increase power output, new computer simulations suggest. It comes down to the windbreaks’ dimensions. Squat, wide barriers are the way to go, according to a simulated wind farm with six rows of turbines. To optimize performance, windbreaks should be a tenth the height of the turbine and at least five times the width of the blades, physicists report July 30 in Physical Review Fluids. Such an arrangement could increase the total power by about 10 percent, the researchers found. That’s the equivalent of adding an additional turbine, on average, for every 10 in a wind farm.

In the simulations, the wind always came from the same direction, suggesting the technique might be useful in locations where wind tends to blow one way, such as coastal regions. Future studies could investigate how this technique might apply in places where wind direction varies.

animation of wakes created by windbreaks in a wind farm simulation
In a computer simulation of a wind farm with 24 turbines, scientists found that windbreaks (red) improved the overall power output. Wakes created by the windbreaks appear in dark blue, and wakes of the turbines are light blue.L. Liu and R.J.A.M. Stevens/Physical Review Fluids 2021, Visualizations by Srinidhi N. Gadde

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

More Stories from Science News on Physics