Coordinated Development Could Help Wind Farms Be Better Neighbors


Wake effect from upwind wind farms can reduce the energy production of downwind neighbors.

As onshore and offshore wind energy farms have proliferated globally in recent years, new research led by CU Boulder highlights a previously underexplored consequence: a wake effect from upwind wind farms that can reduce the energy production of their downwind neighbors.

The study, undertaken in collaboration with the University of Denver (DU) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), combines legal and economic analysis with atmospheric modeling to demonstrate that wake effects—which occur when groups of turbines reduce wind speed for up to several miles behind them—are measurable and predictable, yet remain largely unaccounted for in current U.S. property law. The research appears today in the journal Nature Energy.

“The findings highlight the need for coordinated development and awareness of the big picture in order to maximize wind energy generation nationwide,” said Julie Lundquist, lead author of the study and an associate professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (ATOC).

Wind energy developers seek out sites with reliable wind resources as well as convenient access to electrical transmission lines, leading to dense turbine deployment in choice areas with little coordination between competitors. Nearly 90 percent of U.S. wind farms are located within 25 miles of another wind farm—and often much closer. Yet much like a homeowner whose once-unimpeded views are blocked by new construction, the study shows that existing wind farms stand to lose valuable energy production if they suddenly find themselves downwind of a new neighbor and its wind- and energy-reducing wake.

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