UW researcher: Wind blows controversy, but may become world’s primary energy source

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — Wind energy is a source of controversy in Wyoming, but it may also become the world’s primary power source.

That is according to Jonathan Naughton, a mechanical engineering professor and director of the University of Wyoming’s Wind Energy Research Center.

“’While wind energy is a controversial topic in Wyoming, it is poised to become a primary source of electricity generation for the world,’” Naughton said in a UW news release on Thursday, Oct. 10.

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Some have criticized the disposal of wind turbine blades at Casper’s landfill, but the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says thermoplastic technology could improve the lifespan and ability to recycle the blades.

Naughton is a member of an international team of researches pushing the “the scientific community to address three ‘grand challenges’ that will drive the innovation needed for wind to become one of the world’s primary sources of low-cost electricity generation,” UW says.

Those three challenges:

— Improved understanding of the wind resource and flow in the region of the atmosphere where wind power plants operate.

— Addressing the structural and system dynamics of the largest rotating machines in the world.

— Designing and operating wind power plants to support and foster grid reliability and resiliency.

UW

“’We’ve identified three scientific grand challenges that need to be addressed to realize the technology’s full potential,'” Naughton says. “‘With some of the best wind resources in North America, Wyoming should be a participant in addressing these challenges.’”

The team published an article appearing in the journal “Science” on Wednesday, UW says.

“In fall 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) convened more than 70 wind experts representing 15 countries, including Naughton, to discuss a future electricity system in which wind could serve the global demand for clean energy,” says the university. “Based on this workshop, members of the group identified the three major challenges in wind energy research that require further progress from the scientific community.”

These researchers concluded that if the challenges can be overcome, wind could provide up to half of global energy needs, UW adds.

“’People think that, because wind turbines have worked for decades, there’s no room for improvement. And, yet, there’s so much more to be done,’ says NREL Research Fellow and article co-author Paul Veers. ‘Wind energy has the potential to be a primary source of low-cost energy for the world, but we won’t get there on a business-as-usual trajectory. We need scientists and researchers worldwide to join us in addressing wind’s research challenges.’”

Other goals for wind energy research the team identified include:

-Characterizing the wind power plant operating zone in the atmosphere will be essential to designing the next generation of even larger wind turbines and achieving dynamic control of the machines.

-Enhanced forecasting of the nature of the atmospheric inflow will subsequently enable the control of the plant in the manner necessary for electrical grid support.

UW

Naughton’s own research focuses on “unsteady aerodynamics with applications to aircraft, re-entry vehicles and helicopters. For the past 15 years, Naughton also has worked in the wind energy field, considering unsteady blade flows, atmospheric inflow effects and wind turbine wake behavior,” the news release says.