Optimising wind turbine placement for maximum energy generation

Optimising wind turbine placement for maximum energy generation

Simulated flow through turbines in mountainous terrain.

Planetary Resources Ltd is a Welsh SME that provides consultancy services to the renewable energy sector.  The business is based near Lampeter, and works with customers to identify the optimal location for wind farms.

Combining weather and geographical data sets from the local area with automated computational fluid dynamics software, enables the business to model the flow of wind over, under, through and around a turbine. 

Thousands of simulations on each model are run on High Performance Computing (HPC) Wales’ supercomputing network, to provide accurate predictions on the potential energy yield each turbine would generate based on where it is placed and how it is positioned. 

John Walshe, CEO of Planetary Resources explains:

“A small change in the height of a turbine, or its exact location, can have an enormous impact on the amount of energy it will generate.  Seasonal trends and localised weather patterns will again have an impact on the energy that will be generated, and will determine how long a turbine could operate before it starts to require extensive maintenance and/or replacement.       

“We use a commercial CFD software package called ANSYS to model the flow of the wind.  Based on the results, we provide feedback to customers on how suitable a particular site is for wind turbines, and within a proposed site, exactly how each turbine should be positioned to generate the best possible return on investment.&rdquo

Analysis conducted by RenewableUK, the wind industry body indicated that the total number of onshore wind turbines increased by 13%, to 29,353 at the end of 2013, and is now expected to have surpassed 30,000.  These turbines range in size from micro turbines mounted on roofs to large turbines over 470 feet tall. 

Whilst the installation rate for small and medium sized turbines is estimated to be on the rise, the rate is dropping for larger turbines amid tougher planning regimes.  In 2013, it was reported that 605 medium and large turbines of more than 100kW were installed. In the same year, RenewableUK estimated that 3,536 smaller turbines were also installed.

In addition to providing consultancy services for large scale wind farm proposals, Planetary Resources have launched a new service aimed at micro-installations.  As John Walshe says:

“With an upward trend in the number of new proposals for micro wind farm sites and the importance of these as a source of regular income amongst large swathes of the farming community, we have found a sizeable and largely untapped market for our services.

“When you are talking about investing 5 and 6 figure sums, even in smaller wind farms, it is really worth ensuring you place the turbines in the best possible location, to maximise the income it will generate”

Traditional CFD requires specialist engineers, expensive computer hardware and software.  To make the service economically viable to small scale wind turbine installations, Planetary Resources have created automated software that has been encoded with expert knowledge to reduce the amount of man hours taken to create the virtual models and has partnered with HPC Wales, to outsource the processing element of their work.  Dr Walshe explains:

“To accurately predict wind flow over an object, we need to carry out thousands of simulations which is very data intensive, requiring a huge amount of processing power.  On one of our desktop computers, it would take a few days for each run, so we are talking months of processing to complete an entire job.

“With access to HPC Wales’ services, we are able to set up all of our virtual models in house, and then upload the job onto the supercomputing network to do all the processing remotely. 

“We experience a 24* acceleration in processing speed when scaling up from 1 core to 32 cores on HPC Wales’ system, which cuts our run times from 2.5 days to 3 hours.  This means we are able to complete much bigger and more complex models that look at millions of grid cells, which has enabled us to become much more responsive to our customer’s needs”.

“It would not be feasible for us to complete the processing of our work in-house.  We’d need to spend thousands on purchasing, housing and maintaining the equipment.  We’d need to purchase expensive software licenses and we’d need to cover the electricity costs of running the equipment even when it was not in use.  With access to HPC Wales’ system, we can use the technology as and when we need it and invest the capital elsewhere in the business”

Whilst HPC Wales’ network can be accessed remotely via a web based portal, it requires a good internet connection.  Planetary Resources Ltd is making use of one of 17 local access workstations being installed across Wales to support businesses suffering with poor broadband speeds. 

The workstation is based at the University of Wales’ Lampeter campus and is available along with software, training and support to businesses and academics wishing to utilise the technology. 

For further information on accessing the Lampeter workstation, please contact our local Training & Outreach Mentor, Professor Rod Thomas at rod.thomas@hpcwales.co.uk

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