Advanced computer simulations have revealed new ways to improve offshore wind turbine design to cope with powerful winds called low-level jet streams (LLJs) off the US Atlantic coast, reported researchers at the General Electric (GE) Global Research Center and the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in mid-April.

LLJs have proven challenging to research due to their strong and unpredictable nature, but by using supercomputers to run simulations, the team had success in better understanding their impact on wind turbines – and how to mitigate it.

“Site-specific high-fidelity simulations of windfarms are typically beyond the scope of the wind energy design process due to the sheer complexity of the science and computational modelling involved,” said Balaji Jayaraman, senior engineer at GE Research and principal investigator of the project, in a press statement. However, thanks to new supercomputing capabilities “we’ve been able to demonstrate the feasibility of new wind turbine designs previously not possible.”

The Biden administration has set a goal to deploy 30GW of offshore wind by 2030.

The research found that LLJs can cause significant power losses and damage to offshore wind turbines, lowering their efficiency and lifespan, and even causing them to shut down. Until now, derating the turbines (operating at a lower power level) was a common response strategy employed by large wind farm developers; this leads to increased lifespan for wind turbines at the expense of net power output. The breakthrough of the NREL/GE Research team is identifying critical adjustments to wind turbine design that will reduce loads on turbines without compromising on net power production.

“This sort of public-private partnership allowed us to bring together the best minds across the fields of computational science and wind energy and leverage world-class modelling and simulation tools and computational infrastructure,” said Rick Arthur, senior principal engineer for GE Research Digital Technologies, in a press statement. “Such a collaboration is transformative, enabling not only insight into hidden potential problems but also consequent and viable solutions. The amplified power of this interdisciplinary, cross-industry collaboration cannot be overstated.”