A Moment of Science

How Do Wind Farm Developers Know Exactly Where To Put Turbines?

You have probably seen wind farms popping up in your neighborhood. How do scientists know where wind farms will succeed?

wind farm

Photo: matthias (flickr)

Wind farms are a great form of alternative energy.

The simple answer is that wind farms are built in places where the wind is strong and steady.

But that the still begs the question: how can you know precisely when, where, and how powerfully the wind will blow? That’s where the science of wind forecasting comes in.

A History Of Wind

Wind forecasters look at two kinds of data. First, they take wind measurements at a potential wind farm site for a year or so. Then they compare that data with long term measurements in the same region going back fifty years or more, using information gathered by weather balloons, satellites, and observations at airports.

They feed all the data into powerful computer models that provide an accurate and detailed portrait of the site’s wind resources past, present, and future.

Accuracy Is Key!

The more accurate that portrait is, the better. Because wind is extremely sensitive to changes in temperature, terrain, humidity, and dozens of other factors. A change in elevation from one part of an area to another can make a big difference in wind speed.

So wind forecasting computer models need to take into account as many elements as possible, including potential changes such as climate change, loss of trees, and land development.

No model is perfect, but wind forecasters have become very good at telling wind farm developers how much wind they can expect, and how much energy their turbines will produce.

Read More:

  • Wind forecasting: And now, the electricity forecast (The Economist)

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