Offshore wind energy promises stronger breezes, cheaper real estate, and proximity to population centers. But difficulties in studying wind speeds over the open ocean leave energy producers unable to fully capitalize on the power of offshore wind. T
o address this problem, the Department of Energy funded a research collaboration, led by Dr. Thomas Herrington of Stevens Institute of Technology, to evaluate a new method for measuring offshore wind speeds that promises to make assessing wind farm locations faster and cheaper using inland-based LIDAR research stations.
"This is a major collaboration that will change how wind energy potential is studied," says Dr. Michael Bruno, Dean of the School of Engineering and Science at Stevens. "It represents a major breakthrough in exploiting sustainable energy resources just as our energy needs are skyrocketing."
Before renewable utilities can turn breezes into electricity, engineers must scrutinize the three dimensional wind farm at a proposed site using LIDAR. Standing for light detection and ranging, LIDAR is an optical remote sensing platform that can make precision measurements of atmospheric conditions by analyzing backscattered laser light shot from a LIDAR station.
To overcome limitations in the current standard of vertically profiling LIDAR, Dr. Herrington and his partners are pioneering the use of scanning LIDAR that measures both vertically and horizontally. Researchers can now place a LIDAR station on a building along the coast and measure the wind field in three dimensions out to twenty nautical miles offshore. This presents a radical advantage over past LIDAR schemes that suffered problems of performance and cost, requiring either the use of buoys, which complicate measurements due to their motions, or the construction of expensive offshore platforms.
The importance of studying the wind is all in the numbers, as wind energy potential is directly proportional to the cube of the wind speed. This energy equation amplifies the impact of even the smallest differences in average wind speeds. And with sticker prices in the billions of dollars, offshore wind turbines demand the best breeze for their buck.
"The combined resources of the project collaborators will allow us to compare extensive data from existing inland and offshore sensors with novel measurements from the scanning LIDAR," reports Dr. Herrington, an Associate Professor of Ocean Engineering and Assistant Director of the Center for Maritime Systems. "This will allow us to validate the system’s accuracy as well as investigate fundamental research questions about how ocean conditions affect offshore winds. This is very exciting research that has never been conducted at this scale or resolution before."
The DoE grant partners represent prominent members of the renewable energy industry, ocean observation leaders in academia, and government agencies working together to meet America’s energy needs. This collaborative approach leverages existing at sea resources and advanced measurement systems of industry partner Fishermen’s Energy; data validation and certification expertise of the world’s largest renewable energy consultancy, GL Garrad Hassan; wind resource assessment capability of the nation’s primary renewable energy laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; the operational research management expertise of two of the largest coastal ocean observation and prediction centers, at Stevens and Rutgers University; and Mid-Atlantic renewable energy incentive and regulatory agencies, NJBPU, NJDEP, and NJDOT.
The end goal of their collaboration is to address the technical and commercial challenges of the offshore wind farm industry by certifying and assessing cost-effective wind resource characterization technologies. Although their initial focus is on Mid-Atlantic and especially New Jersey coastal wind resources, the proof-of-concept can be applied to capitalize on wind resources anywhere on Earth.
With worldwide energy consumption predicted to rise by as much as fifty percent in the next twenty years, this new technology to optimize offshore wind energy comes as a breath of fresh air.