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MIT scientists found a way to maximize energy produced by wind farms

Thinking in terms of the collective wind farm instead of each individual turbine could do a lot for the sustainable energy source's output.

Wind turbines in rapeseed fields in Brandenburg, Germany, on Monday, May 2, 2022. MIT scientists say if existing wind farms could use this model it would generate enough power for 3 million homes in the United States. Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

As the Boston area, and the world at large, look to limit their carbon footprint and somehow negate the effects of climate change, MIT scientists say they found a way to maximize wind farm output.

Through computer modeling, scientists theorize that prioritizing the collective output of a wind farm over the individual turbine may allow for an overall increase in output, according to a paper in the journal Nature Energy.

“The decarbonization of electricity production is of paramount importance,” reads the published research. “Approaches to maximize renewable energy production in emerging economies are critical to address climate change.”

As just 14% of energy production worldwide came from all renewables in 2015 and the expected 100% carbon-free electricity generation date looms in 2035, it’s necessary to get every last kilowatt-hour out of our existing wind farms.


But how would a wind farm be able to maximize its output on the whole? The answer, according to these scientists, lies in rotating the rotor blades on the turbines.

On average, wind farm turbines use their own individual sensors to adjust the blades to capture the most wind, and therefore the most energy, as possible. However, this doesn’t consider the turbines that must use the now disturbed air downwind.

If, however, each turbine’s blades are turned to an angle where a lower level of disturbance known as turbulent wake occurs it might sacrifice some of the efficiency of individual turbines but the entire farm can work together more cohesively.

This is referred to as “wake steering” in the paper.

“To achieve climate goals, renewables must produce most of the demanded global energy. Wake steering is especially effective at increasing farm production at low wind speeds,” reads the paper.

Scientists put their ideas to the test at a wind farm in India. Under optimal wind conditions, their model increased electricity output by as much as 32% the scientists told The Boston Globe.

The team found that when wind conditions weren’t ideal, such as being too strong or blowing in the wrong direction, this strategy didn’t work as well.


While there are pros and cons to this strategy, it’s possible that it could allow for smaller wind farms that take up less land to produce more energy, according to Michael Howland, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, and the paper’s lead author.

“It’s critically important we do this now, as we embark on building much more offshore wind. We need to ensure that our future wind farms maximize efficiency to increase the pace of decarbonization,” Howland said.


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