Where Next For Wind Energy?

Online Editor

Aneela Nasim describes how technology can help wind energy lead the way to net-zero

There is no doubt that we are living in increasingly precarious times, with climate change posing many new challenges and risks to life on Earth. With the mounting pressure to divert from the use of environmentally damaging fossil fuels, the search for cleaner energy solutions is high on the agenda for governments and organisations across the world.

When it comes to green energy innovation, the development and use of wind turbines and wind energy have been one of the most successful efforts in the move towards net-zero. There is industry consensus that they are an integral part of the energy mix required to reduce carbon emissions - they are a proven sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.

Wind Energy Production Challenges

However, the design, manufacturing, installation and maintenance of wind turbines pose considerable challenges. For example, advanced composites technology has enabled the development of large wind turbine blades. However, the use of larger blades increases the demand on other wind turbine components or subsystems such as the drivetrain, the tower and the foundation. Therefore, the non-linear bend-twist coupling of the blades needs to be analysed correctly so that design and production decisions can be made to minimise loads on components, improve reliability, reduce maintenance requirements and optimise the turbine’s energy output.

Another issue is noise concern, as revolving rotor blades encounter turbulence in the passing air. This is called broadband noise and is usually described as a “swishing” or “whooshing” sound. Some older wind turbines can also produce tonal sounds such as a “hum” or “whine” at a steady pitch – and this can be particularly irritating for nearby residents. Regulations are tightening, meaning that future wind turbines must operate more quietly.

In addition, wind energy companies must now ensure that their production strategies deliver on quality and cost goals throughout a wind turbine’s 20-year operational lifecycle. Despite the great strides forward wind turbines have provided for the environment, it is clear that there are still some key challenges to be overcome if they’re going to continue as a viable, sustainable energy option.

Improving The Design And Manufacturing Process

When it comes to improving the development process of wind turbines, modelling and simulation technology are key to making this as efficient as possible. With this regard, several important engineering technologies need to be considered.

Multibody systems simulation enables designers and engineers to model and investigates the performance of the mechanical and mechatronic systems’ for both dynamic motion and loading. This enables them to generate virtual 3D models to visualise motion and analyse coupling forces and stresses throughout the system. A multibody system simulation can help engineers make informed decisions for quick design changes, study sub- and complete systems, reduce the number of prototypes, avoid costly last-minute changes and speed up the time to market.

Wind turbine structural noise can originate from the gearbox and radiate from the tower and blades, so multibody dynamics combined with structural and vibro-acoustics analysis are key to improving the design. Using simulation to visualise noise sources and propagation gives engineers the insight needed to create innovative noise suppression add-ons.

Multibody system simulation and vibro-acoustics analysis should be applied alongside other critical technology such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation. CFD allows engineers to perform accurate real-world aerodynamic and aeroacoustic simulation.

The efficient translation of aerodynamic force to drive the rotation of a generator is critical for generating electricity reliably. CFD is used predict aerodynamic loads on blades, analyse airflow effect on blade deformation, and calculate lift on a blade section based on various airfoil shapes. This guides designers in creating the appropriate shape, orientation, and size of the airfoil while reducing reliance on physical testing. CFD is also used to identify vortices to analyse and minimise aeroacoustic noise resulting from the air turbulence.

In addition, as size and number of wind turbines within a wind farm have increased, the turbulent wakes of upstream turbines can negatively affect the airflow field of the turbines behind them, which can decrease power production and increase mechanical loads on the system. Aerodynamic simulation can assist in making decisions on the placement of multiple wind turbines within the wind farm, helping to minimise power losses, reduce fatigue loads, and minimise operational and maintenance costs.

Finally, electromagnetic simulation software enables engineers to efficiently investigate the high and low frequencies of electronic and electromagnetic components and systems. Engineers can analyse grounding and shielding to protect electronic components from lightning strikes. It also is used to simulate electromagnetic interference from wireless transmissions emanating from the wind turbine or from other transmission sources, which also helps decision-making regarding wind turbine placement in the wind farm, as well as placement of antennas and electronic devices on the tower.

Electromagnetic simulation can be applied throughout the entire design process. Virtual prototypes are transforming the design cycle from the inception of an idea to the synthesis of components to meet specifications to analysing the electromagnetic performance under operational conditions.

When implemented together, these industry-proven modelling and simulation technologies can facilitate highly accurate virtual tests of electronics, generators, drivetrains, blades and offshore installation – helping to inform decisions that improve the product development, manufacturing and installation processes.

What The Future Holds

It is pivotal that wind energy developers use a technology platform that enables teams to use a single model and data source as well as integrated modelling and simulation with capabilities to collaborate on functional performance and reliability of designs, their manufacturing processes, and document results to meet regulatory requirements.

Using such technology also helps organisations reduce the time and cost of physical testing. They are able to create virtual twins of their real products to explore design alternatives and optimise components for shape, size and weight, and communicate design decisions before the physical prototyping and testing process.

With the use of new development methods, the improvement of processes and an expansion of the use of modelling, simulation and design optimisation technologies, wind energy companies will be able to address their production challenges head-on. In turn, they can lead the way in powering the future of efficient, reliable and safe wind turbines – an imperative factor in the industry’s race to net-zero.

Aneela Nasim is Infrastucture Energy & Materials Lead at Dassault Systèmes