Shushing Wind Turbines Could Boost Power

This sounds like good news for wind energy: GE and government scientists are reporting lab work that could lead to quieter wind turbines.

Noise has become an issue with wind energy development – just a few months ago, Fairhaven, Mass., decided to shut down two 1.5-megawatt turbines between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. in response to neighborhood noise complaints. Such complaints are often accompanied by claims of ill health effects, although little science can be found to back up those claims.

wind turbine noise GE

Displayed are isosurfaces of vorticity from a Displayed are isosurfaces of vorticity from a large eddy simulation (image via GE)

But whether the new insights GE and researchers at the Sandia National Laboratories are talking about will make a big difference there is hard to say: They seem to be more focused on the fact that production of noise also leads to reduction in power – so trimming what the scientists call “aerodynamic blade noise” is more about making wind turbines more powerful rather than reducing their bother to the neighborhood.

“There’s no question, aerodynamic noise is a key constraint in wind turbine blade design today,” Mark Jonkhof, wind technology platform leader at GE Global Research said in a statement. “By using high-performance computing to advance current engineering models that are used to predict blade noise, we can build quieter rotors with greater blade tip velocity that produce more power. This not only means lower energy costs for consumers, but also a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”

GE said it believes that a rotor design that trims noise by 1 decibel would boost energy yield over the course of a year by 2 percent.

The GE team credited the use of a supercomputer at Sandia National Laboratories for the new insights into blade technology:

GE’s testing involved Sandia’s Red Mesa supercomputer running a high-fidelity Large Eddy Simulation (LES) code, developed at Stanford University, to predict the detailed fluid dynamic phenomena and resulting wind blade noise. For a period of three months, this LES simulation of the turbulent air flow past a wind blade section was continuously performed on the Red Mesa HPC. The resulting flow-field predictions yielded valuable insights that were used to assess current engineering design models, the assumptions they make that most impact noise predictions, and the accuracy and reliability of model choices.

The researchers still have to put the knew knowledge to work, but they sound confident. “We believe that the results achieved from our simulations would, at the very least, lay the groundwork for improved noise design models,” Jonkhof said.

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.

  • Alec Sevins

    The visual blight is the main factor, still. Less noise won’t change that unless they make them much smaller somehow. No sign of that happening, as the trend is the opposite.

    • Pete Bachant

      Their “visual blight” is highly subjective. Once could make that argument about anything. As for the size, turbine power output is proportional to its frontal area, meaning smaller turbines produce less power. That doesn’t seem like a logical direction to head if we’re trying to increase wind capacity.

  • MaxVonSpank

    I thought Shushing was a Chinese inventor, lol

  • Ron Franklin

    How about a producer where the turbines are enclosed “inhouse”, which makes them very quiet in comparison to others. A simple downdraft system should do the trick.