Predictive technology could boost smaller wind turbines

Small wind turbines could capture more energy by predicting when gusts of wind will occur, using software under development by a British firm.

Quiet Revolution produces small vertical-axis wind turbines designed for urban and industrial settings where nearby buildings can block the wind and make it more inconsistent than in open, rural locations.

These turbines use a system called Gust Tracking to match their speed to the wind velocity and capture the maximum amount of energy.

Now the firm hopes to use data collected by each turbine to model the weather conditions of its location and predict gusts of wind before they happen so the turbines reach optimal speed quicker.

Because the energy in the wind is proportional to its speed cubed, and stronger gusts in these locations often last for mere minutes or even seconds, it’s important to react to changes as quickly as possible.

‘Something like 30 to 40 per cent of the energy available is in these short-period fluctuations,’ Quiet Revolution’s innovation and research director, Tamas Bertenyi, told The Engineer.

‘The performance actually increases with increased turbulence intensity, which is not the case for usual wind turbines.’

The new software will build on the existing Gust Tracking system, which uses an ultrasonic anemometer to measure wind speed and combines that data with knowledge of the turbine’s aerodynamics to work out the optimal turbine speed.

‘Although we’re adjusting the speeds, we rarely ever put energy into the turbine to chase a gust,’ said Bertenyi. ‘What we effectively do is reduce the load very quickly and the wind energy is used to accelerate the turbine.’

The next step is to use recorded wind data to build up a picture of the likely weather patterns in each location and predict when a gust is coming.

As more information is collected, the software should be able to learn more about an area and improve its predictions over time.

‘It’s short-term forecasting in the order of a few seconds,’ said Bertenyi. ‘If you know the gust is coming and you’re already racing after it as it’s starting, that’s how you get the most out of the gust tracker.

‘We’ve got to the point where we understand what’s possible and now we’re trying to achieve that. In terms of making it into a product we’re still some way out.’

From next year, the firm will be working on the project with a maths PhD student from Edinburgh University, funded by the EPSRC through a knowledge transfer network grant.