Wind power is likely to play a large role in the future of sustainable, clean energy, but wide-scale adoption has remained elusive. Now, researchers have found wind farms’ effects on local temperatures and proposed strategies for mediating those effects, increasing the potential to expand wind farms to a utility-scale energy resource.
Led by University of Illinois professor of atmospheric sciences Somnath Baidya Roy, the research team will publish its findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper will appear in the journal’s Online Early Edition this week.
Roy first proposed a model describing the local climate impact of wind farms in a 2004 paper. But that and similar subsequent studies have been based solely on models because of a lack of available data. In fact, no field data on temperature were publicly available for researchers to use, until Roy met Neil Kelley at a 2009 conference. Kelley, a principal scientist at the National Wind Technology Center, part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, had collected temperature data at a wind farm in San Gorgonio, Calif., for more than seven weeks in 1989.
Analysis of Kelley’s data corroborated Roy’s modeling studies and provided the first observation-based evidence of wind farms’ effects on local temperature. The study found that the area immediately surrounding turbines was slightly cooler during the day and slightly warmer at night than the rest of the region.
As a small-scale modeling expert, Roy was most interested in determining the processes that drive the daytime cooling and nocturnal warming effects. He identified an enhanced vertical mixing of warm and cool air in the atmosphere in the wake of the turbine rotors. As the rotors turn, they generate turbulence, like the wake of a speedboat motor. Upper-level air is pulled down toward the surface while surface-level air is pushed up, causing warmer and cooler air to mix.
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