A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota using snow during a Minnesota blizzard is giving researchers new insight into the airflow around large wind turbines. This research is essential to improving wind energy efficiency, especially in wind farms where airflows from many large wind turbines interact with each other. As wind turbines have grown to more than 100 meters tall, field research in real-world settings has become more difficult.
Researchers braved the harsh conditions of a blizzard in the middle of the night to set up a large searchlight with reflecting optics to generate a gigantic light sheet next to a 130-meter-tall wind turbine for illuminating the snow particles in a 36 x 36-meter-high area. The snow is easier to see in the light at night, much like the average person looks into a streetlight to see how much it is snowing during a snowstorm.
Researchers videotaped the snow particles as the wind turbine spun to show airflow patterns. This video was digitized and synchronized with wake flow and load data from the fully instrumented research wind turbine. Results showed that this technique was successful in measuring the turbulence of the airflow structure around the wind turbine.