Aussies Seek To Shush Wind Turbines

The typical story about wind-turbine noise focuses on whether it makes people sick (the answer, by the way, might be yes, if you’ve got “negative orientated personality” traits, according to a recent study). This story is a little different. It’s about a new research effort to understand where wind-turbine noise comes from, and how it might be reduced.

The University of Adelaide reports that scientists in its Flow and Noise Group at the School of Mechanical Engineering are going to build a scale-model turbine in a wind tunnel at the university, then build an acoustic test room – an “anechoic chamber,” it’s called – around the turbine.

Wind Power

image via Shutterstock

In a statement, Associate Professor Con Doolan, the chief investigator on the project dubbed “Resolving the mechanics of wind turbine noise production,” explained how it will work:

This will be the most sophisticated wind turbine noise experiment in the world. We’ll be recreating the environment of a wind farm in the laboratory, with all the different noise sources, and then use advanced measuring techniques – laser diagnostics to measure the aerodynamics and microphone arrays for the acoustics – to find out what the strongest noise source is and how we might control it.

We’ll measure the aerodynamics (air flow and surface pressure) and acoustics at the same time so we can pin point exactly what is causing each type of noise generated.

And if it works? Well then, Doolan explained, “we can advise governments about wind farm regulation and policy, and make recommendations about the design of wind farms or the turbine blades to industry.”

Wind power isn’t only criticized for alleged noise impacts on health – critics also say light flicker caused by the spinning turbines can be an issue. But noise seems to be the big culprit cited in what is sometimes called wind turbine syndrome, a catchall term sometimes used for a wide collection of chronic ailments and symptoms.

The existence of such a “syndrome” has largely been discounted by researchers; in 2011, the state of Massachusetts assembled an expert panel to look at the science and early this year it reported finding little or no evidence to back up claims that low-frequency sounds from turbines harm the vestibular system, that turbine noise brings psychological distress or mental health problems, and that there is an association between turbine exposure and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease and headache or migraine.

An Oregon report released this year came to similar conclusions, although it did allow that “sound from wind energy facilities in Oregon could potentially impact people’s health and well-being” when it exceeds state standards, so anything that might result in quieter turbines would no doubt be welcomed.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

8 Comments

  • Reply December 1, 2012

    Rogue_Primate_of_Bloomfield

    Apparently, according to Andreas Nauen (AN), CEO of REPower
    Systems, the issue of wind turbine noise and health is only an “Aussie” problem. Nauen, quoted in an interview by Giles Parkinson of the website RenewEconomy (RE) stated:

    “RE: There is a vocal resistance to wind energy in Australia,
    particularly around health issues. Are you seeing this elsewhere around
    the world?”

    “AN: No. A blunt no. I am always surprised – I have been to Australia
    a number of times, and every time this comes up (and) I think to
    myself hmmm, the only country in the world where this gets discussed.
    You have in other countries very specific discussions about things
    like warning lights for high towers. It’s always a very solution
    orientated discussion, if it comes up at all, but this fundamental
    discussion of wind turbines causing illnesses, I don’t see it anywhere else in the world.”

    “RE: Why do you think it happens in Australia?”

    “AN: Honestly, I don’t know. In my last job (head of Siemens wind),
    we had a 1.5MW turbine in the parking lot where we parked the cars. We
    didn’t experience any discussion about these turbines and health. I’m
    very familiar with the Danish situation, where they have a lot of
    community wind farms which are very close to where people live. I have not seen any of these discussions.”

    “RE: Maybe that has something to do with the community ownership structure?”

    “AN: If there was a serious issue with health, people would not trade
    that off (for ownership). I’m not sure why that gets started in
    Australia. I can only repeat again that we don’t have this level of discussion in any other country.”

    David Norman, Rogue Primate of Bloomfield

  • Reply December 1, 2012

    Valewood

    That Massachusetts report was 163 pages of absolute nonsense. Anyone who takes the time to read it will realize just what a piece of garbage it is. The fact that the wind industry (world-wide) uses it to back up their claim of no ill health effects is beyond belief. I think they rely on the fact that no one is going to sit down and actually read it.

  • Reply December 1, 2012

    Mike Barnard

    Actually, there have been 17 reviews of wind health issues by credible, independent, professional groups over the past several years. They all found the same thing: no connection between health complaints and wind energy, and no mechanism for health impacts. They all agreed that a small subset of people very close to wind farms find the noise annoying; the study on negatively oriented personality traits referenced in the blog post makes it clear who will find the noise annoying, as does work by Pedersen which shows a strong correlation between annoyance and not receiving money from nearby wind farms.http://www.quora.com/Wind-Power/What-might-cause-people-who-live-near-wind-turbines-to-get-sick/answer/Mike-Barnard

    As for wind turbine syndrome, even anti-wind medical professionals such as Nissenbaum and Hanning think it’s crap.

    http://www.quora.com/Wind-Power/Is-Dr-Nina-Pierpoints-Wind-Turbine-Syndrome-a-real-medical-syndrome-caused-by-wind-turbines/answer/Mike-Barnard

    It’s also worth assessing the qualifications of proponents of ‘wind turbine syndrome’ when they have to appear in court, as Ms. Sarah Laurie did last year. It was a bad couple of days for her.
    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2012/bad-day-in-court-for-anti-wind-campaigner-sarah-laurie

    As for the scale model, it’s an interesting approach but given that there are 200,000 wind turbines in operation world-wide, it’s unclear why they don’t just assess the real thing. Scale effects and errors in creation of scale models can lead to skewed results. However, Associate Professor Con Doolan does work with wind tunnels, so this explains his golden hammer approach.

    • Reply December 2, 2012

      Pete Danko

      That’s an interesting question, Mike, about real word vs. wind tunnel on this. I’ll shoot an email to the Adelaide folks and see what they say (my guess: that the chamber is key, giving them an ability to make super-sophisticated measurements that just aren’t possible with a full-scale turbine out in the real world).

  • Reply December 1, 2012

    Tom

    Mike Barnard -good grief man you are worse than Andreas Nauan , what wind company do you work – all the reviews you mention are by wind shills you know that .
    There are families suffering everywhere in the world where there is wind projects – go talk to these people .
    As for the article above – it’s just more modeling that can be made to give any result
    you want -just like the wind industries noise modeling etc -garbage in garbage out .

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