by Kristina Woods Butler
Powering the Future
A leader in wind science research for more than four decades, Texas Tech is committed to educating and innovating for future generations.
July 9, 2013, Texas Tech officials, along with representatives from the Department of Energy, Sandia National Laboratories, Vestas and Group NIRE officially commissioned the SWiFT facility at Texas Tech’s Reese Technology Center.
Feature Image (L-R): M. Duane Nellis, Anurag Gupta, Jon White, Jose Zayas, Kent Hance.
The weather in West Texas is ever changing, but one thing is constant–the wind will blow. The average wind speed near Lubbock is around 12 mph with gusts typically as high as 70 mph in a given year. While Mother Nature can easily blow in a powerful thunderstorm one day and a mile-wide billowing cloud of dust the next, she is also providing the perfect research laboratory for scientists at Texas Tech University.
For more than four decades Texas Tech scientists have studied the impact of wind on structures with a goal of saving lives and reducing storm damage. Now, expanding on that internationally recognized work, researchers are looking at the impact of wind on wind power turbines, aiming to make wind farms more efficient and more productive.
Wind power work at Texas Tech has been ongoing for about a decade, but a major step forward was taken on July 9, 2013. As the wind danced across the podium microphone, Texas Tech officials, along with representatives from the Department of Energy, Sandia National Laboratories, Vestas and Group NIRE officially commissioned the Scaled Wind Farm Technology (SWiFT) facility at Texas Tech’s research site at the Reese Technology Center.
“The completion of the SWiFT facility marks a new and exciting chapter of wind research at Texas Tech University,” said Kent Hance, chancellor of the Texas Tech University System. “Research generated from this venture will enhance the capability of wind turbines, help develop wind power systems of the future and further Texas Tech’s position as a leader in the wind energy industry. We are grateful to our multiple partners who helped make this important project a reality.”
The SWiFT facility is the first public facility of its kind in the world to use multiple wind turbines to measure turbine-to-turbine interaction in a wind farm setting.
“Our researchers at Texas Tech University are working to better understand and enhance methods to harness wind energy, and it is vital we forge ahead and discover the full impact this energy source can have on our society,” said Texas Tech President M. Duane Nellis.
The 1970 tornado in Lubbock killed 26 people and destroyed 1,100 homes. Click image to enlarge. Photo courtesy of Southwest Collections/Special Collections Library.
A History of Wind Research
To best understand the development of the SWiFT facility, one must look at Texas Tech’s history of studying the wind.
Texas Tech’s commitment to wind research dates back to 1970, following a May 11 tornado that killed 26 people and destroyed large sections of the city of Lubbock. Faculty representing the university’s civil engineering department and atmospheric sciences group began to think of what could be done to minimize the effects of severe wind events, such as tornados and hurricanes, on lives and structures, leading to the establishment of the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center (WiSE).
For more than four decades the study of wind at Texas Tech has seen exponential growth. Researchers have continued to examine how to mitigate the devastation caused by severe winds. Texas Tech created the first doctoral program in wind science and engineering; the Texas Wind Energy Institute (TWEI) was formed and began offering a Bachelor of Science in wind energy as well as a variety of graduate and professional development certificates; groundbreaking research led to the development of the Enhanced Fujita scale, the measure now used to determine the strength of a tornado; and cutting-edge technology continues to be developed to study the impact of wind on structures. In the past decade, Texas Tech has expanded into the wind energy sector, but has continued its strong focus on the inherent link between engineering and atmospheric science.
Exploring Wind Energy
Texas is the leader in wind power production in the United States, and Lubbock’s location in the Great Plains “wind corridor” region makes Texas Tech ideal for research and education in wind energy.
The SWiFT facility is one example of how Texas Tech is expanding its wind research horizons. The facility not only benefits research and education at Texas Tech, it also supports President Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, which in part aims to strengthen renewable energy production. Researchers at SWiFT will have an opportunity to address wind farm underperformance through rapid, cost-efficient testing and development of transformative wind energy technology.
“We really think this is truly a unique facility that’s going to be here for many, many years, providing information that we have not been able to gather, ever,” said Jose Zayas, director of the U.S. Department of Energy, Wind and Water Power Technology Office. “And I think the information that we attain here is really going to be instrumental as we think about wind energy, wind energy’s future, and how we unlock some of the opportunities out there to continue to drive down the costs of wind energy systems, and at the same time improve the reliability.”
The objectives of the facility include reducing power losses and damage caused by turbine-to-turbine interaction, enhancing energy capture and damage-mitigation potential of advanced rotors, and improving the validity of aerodynamic, aero-elastic and aero-acoustic simulations used to develop innovative technologies.
“We’re trying to look at technologies that will be needed not just this year, but five to 10 years from now,” said Jon White, Sandia’s technical lead for the project. “We chose to come here because to drive that kind of innovation, you have to have the right kind of facility that combines world-class wind resources, with world-class research and faculty. We found a home here at Texas Tech, where we can combine our expertise and our needs with the facilities that have existed here for more than 40 years, and have been developed in the faculty and staff out here at Reese Technology Center.”
The site includes two V27 research turbines deployed by the Department of Energy and Sandia, and a third V27 turbine from Vestas Wind Systems, a leading turbine manufacturer. The facility could eventually expand to include 10 wind turbines, which would allow researchers to further examine how individual turbines and entire wind farms can become more productive and collaborative.
“For Vestas, the commissioning of SWiFT marks the realization of a technology-acceleration vehicle,” said Anurag Gupta, who works for Vestas Wind Systems’ product integration team. “With its intersection of scale and design, this vehicle provides both cost-effective accuracy as well as the ability to bridge fundamental and applied research at the power plant level. This will help Vestas to quickly drive organic and partner innovations to market.”
Assistant Professor Larry Tanner watches as a two-by-four makes impact. Click image to enlarge. Watch a video of the TTU Debris Impact Facility here.
Professor Darryl James stands inside the VorTECH simulator. Click image to enlarge. Watch a video of VorTECH here.
National Wind Institute
The SWiFT facility is part of the newly established National Wind Institute (NWI). NWI merges all previous efforts dedicated to the research and educational opportunities in wind science, engineering and energy at Texas Tech, such as TWEI and WiSE, into one identifiable organization for all things wind. NWI Director John Schroeder said the move is innovative and strengthens the already solid interdisciplinary approach to the study of wind at Texas Tech.
“Wherever wind is involved, there is a strong link between the engineering disciplines and atmospheric science,” Schroeder said. “Texas Tech has focused on this link with decades of organic interdisciplinary research and educational activities. Recently, we’ve added economists, lawyers, policy experts, cybersecurity experts and business professionals to broaden our team even further. It’s an exciting step forward for the university.”
NWI’s wind research areas include engineers and scientists studying everything from the detailed characteristics of turbine inflow and wake flow, response, loading and performance to gearbox failure, power electronics and grid integration, as well as meteorologists working toward improving wind power forecasting and resource assessment. Wind research also includes areas of wind hazard mitigation, wind-induced damage, severe storms and wind-related economics.
NWI houses some of the most innovative research labs in the country and has become the leading research facility of its kind, with a focus on testing wind speed resistance in relation to storm shelters.
Texas Tech’s Debris Impact Facility was recently named to Popular Science’s “10 Most Awesome College Labs of 2013.” The facility consists of a pneumatic cannon capable of producing simulated wind speeds higher than 250 mph. The cannon launches different types of simulated wind-born debris, such as two-by-fours, in a controlled environment to provide valuable impact-resistance data. The cannon was instrumental in devising above-ground storm shelters for use in homes and other structures and was used to develop safety standards for above-ground shelters.
Another NWI facility is the VorTECH simulator, which uses eight large fans to suck up approximately 160,000 cubic feet of air each minute while 64 strategically placed vanes surround the simulator to create rotation. VorTECH is able to simulate tornadic winds in the mid-EF3 range or lower. The force of the wind is measured by dozens of pressure sensors applied to structural models.
NWI also is dedicated to developing educational and professional programs to meet the workforce demand of the wind energy industry. It is home to the first doctoral degree in wind science and engineering and Bachelor of Science in wind energy in the country, as well as undergraduate minors and certificates.
In a partnership between Texas Tech University and Texas State Technical College, with initial funding from the Texas Workforce Commission, NWI provides leadership in technical, managerial and professional education for the future of the wind industry.
“NWI is a tremendous institute with a large collection of collaborative faculty, a unique suite of technical capabilities and facilities, a growing list of impressive public and private partners, and educational opportunities that are unmatched anywhere,” Schroeder said. “NWI has an opportunity to significantly and positively impact society through innovative research, education and outreach focused on all things wind.”
– Jose Zayas, DOE
At top: Dual-Doppler synthesized horizontal wind speed near hub height within a wind farm. Black dots indicate turbine locations. At bottom: Vertical cross section through two turbines showing wind speed differences from the free-stream wind profile. Black rectangles represent the turbines and the black horizontal line represents hub height.
The SWiFT facility is, so far, the most visible example of the partnerships Texas Tech is forming to address wind industry needs.
Research projects are already underway at the SWiFT facility. In a two-fold study (“Building the Foundation for Smart Wind Farms through First-Order Controls Opportunities based on Real-Time Observations of Complex Flows”) Schroeder and Brian Hirth, NWI research professor, will use a $385,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to work with wind farm operators in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and southwest Kansas to study wind flows through various wind farms.
According to Schroeder, there is a shortage of data on how wind flows through a wind farm and effects the turbines in a wind array. The result can be damage to the turbines and a decrease in overall wind farm efficiency.
“What we’re looking at is the ability to recognize the complex flow field and then intelligently control an array of turbines collectively to maximize performance,” Schroeder said.
The researchers will use TTUKa mobile research radars to provide accurate and timely wind maps that can be used in real time to transform how wind farms operate and help improve performance. They also will monitor wind flows as wind farm operators adjust a turbine’s angle and rotation in reaction to wind events.
Research at SWiFT is not limited to wind science and engineering disciplines. Another research project at SWiFT involves the monitoring of wildlife around the wind farm. This effort through the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is another example of the transdisciplinary opportunities available.
“Texas Tech’s wind research and educational opportunities have always been interdisciplinary,” said Michael San Francisco, interim vice president for research. “The establishment of NWI builds on Texas Tech’s commitment to transdisciplinary research and will provide a better foundation for collaboration and support for our wind efforts.”
Revenue generated from the SWiFT turbines will be used for research and educational purposes at Texas Tech. Energy produced by the Vestas turbine will be directed toward a Vestas Wind Research Program through NWI, and revenue generated from the energy produced by the Sandia turbines will support NWI graduate students conducting Sandia wind research projects.
“Every single electron that is generated from this facility is going to turn into a scholarship fund,” Zayas said. “We think that our investments here are not only going to advance the science, but will provide, I think, the next generation of scientists, the next set of innovations for this industry, and I think it’s really exciting.”
Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major research and development responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness. www.sandia.gov
With more than 56 GW of installed capacity worldwide and 62 percent more capacity installed than its closest competitor, Vestas Wind Systems is the global leader in wind energy. Since 1979, Vestas has supplied more than 49,000 wind turbines in 70-plus countries. Vestas provides jobs for more than 17,000 people at its service and project sites, research facilities, factories and offices all over the world. Vestas employs about 2,500 people in North America, and its regional headquarters is in Portland, Ore. www.vestas.com
Group NIRE is a clean energy development company providing project development, finance and consulting services. Group NIRE is currently developing wind projects across the nation and working with several international renewable energy manufacturers of original equipment and components to commercialize new products and technologies. www.groupnire.com
Kristina Woods Butler is Associate Director of Research and Academic Communications in the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University.