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An Automated Approach to Wind Energy Siting

The same sophisticated computer process that has been used to engineer the structure of a space satellite antenna or formulate financial trading strategies through multiple scenarios is being utilized by the wind industry to site wind farms and turbines.

Multi-objective adaptive heuristic algorithms are computer instructions that automatically search project criteria and siting issues in an efficient manner to provide wind farm planners a set of near optimal solutions.

Siting a wind farm and individual turbines within the farm is critical to the project’s success. Siting, however, is more complex than buying or leasing any available property and placing turbines randomly. There is the availability of regular and considerable wind current to consider. Other issues include environmental and wildlife impacts, land ownership, existing infrastructure, proximity to utility lines, population density, regional land use, topography, and the costs of clearing land and developing access roads.

Wind farm developers have found new Web-based computer software to be useful in navigating these complexities. geoAMPS, a technology company located in the Columbus, Ohio, area, has developed a product called altAMPS that automates much of the information essential to making siting decisions.

Also known as genetic algorithms, multi-objective adaptive heuristic algorithms are computer instructions that adapt Charles Darwin’s evolutionary model. The process interchanges design elements in hundreds of thousands of different combinations. Only the best-performing combinations are permitted to survive.

Wind turbines work best on high, exposed locations. Hilltops are ideal, as long as there is a flat area and suitable ground for the tower. The vicinity should be clear of obstacles which could interfere with the wind current or operation of the turbines.

Certain sites can be removed from consideration quickly based on federal, state and local government regulations and restrictions; land use and geological constraints; and adverse impacts on the environment or wildlife.

For those locations that pass those tests and are regarded as the best feasible sites, still more data is required, such as availability of wind, land ownership, proximity to utility lines, topography, infrastructure, population density and site preparation costs.

An important preliminary procedure in siting is placement of one or more meteorological (met) towers. With attached anemometers and wind vanes, these towers measure wind speed and direction specific to the site under consideration. At least one year of collected met data is recommended.

Sorting through the complexities of siting a wind farm, one or more met towers, and multiple wind turbines is a difficult process. Meanwhile, substantial investment is on the line. Developers resort to various means to arrive at what they hope will be the best siting decisions.

Some companies still work from pencil, paper and calculator. This process is unlikely to result in optimal siting. As more factors are taken into account – such as wind speed, costs and regulations – the metrics and rules grow exponentially. This traditional approach quickly becomes unsustainable.

Other companies use a semi-manual process. Through computer-assisted design, wind farm developers simulate possible locations through a geographical information system (GIS) interface. They gain instant feedback with each minute change to the spatial orientation of the turbines. This feedback includes values of desired calculated metrics. It red-flags certain locations when any siting rules defined at the outset are violated.

There are, however, countless possible placements of turbines within a proposed wind farm, a fact which can make this approach, although superior to the manual process, too time-consuming and inefficient. Even after such a long, arduous process, wind farm developers may not have arrived at the best siting options.

An automated approach takes the guesswork out of siting. Software-generated algorithms automatically search the solution space and efficiently provide planners with a near optimal solution that can statistically be guaranteed.

Planners define areas of interest and project objectives and rank factors on a weighted scale of importance. Met tower and GIS data is included. GIS mapping data can be applied to information from local agencies and third-party providers. Planners learn quickly about zoning or government restrictions. They obtain information about environmental or wildlife impacts, topography, weather patterns, infrastructure, population density and utilities. Title information on individual parcels, which previously took days to research at the county courthouse, is available instantaneously and can greatly speed the right of way negotiation process.

The software performs a directed search and determines several siting solutions, numbering them in the order of best fit.

This automated approach can eliminate nearly all the time spent developing wind farm layouts and transform it into evaluating optimized layout and choosing the one that best suits project needs. If underlying factors change, re-evaluating the options is a simple change requiring minimal re-work.

Multi-objective adaptive heuristic algorithms have been used across other industries to solve the same type of complex problems wind farm planners face in siting decisions. Financial organizations have used them to formulate trading strategies. The method even has been used to arrange a constellation of satellites in space, and to engineer design of a space satellite antenna. It reduces development time and financial risk, while simultaneously increasing efficiency and maximizing profit.

A wind farm project represents a significant investment of time and resources. The capabilities of automated siting optimization can help wind companies maximize the return on that investment.

Dan Liggett is Communications and Public Relations Manager of geoAMPS, a technology company located in the Columbus, Ohio, area that provides software solutions to manage land rights and infrastructure assets. For more information call 614-389-4871 or visit www.geoamps.com.

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Steven Scannell's picture
Steven Scannell on January 28, 2013

Going higher, with wind mill "forests" is our future. Stand alone units are obsolete.  My Georges Bank Mega Mill System  (www.environmentalfisherman.com) uses many cross braces and stays, for a few good reasons.  First, we have to go "where the wind is", and this only means going high up. The wind is up there, not down here.  Second, offshore systems need extra rigging for the double hybrid approach, which is the foundation of my own designs.  Wind and wave hybrid design makes more sense, with heavily stayed systems.  And artificial reef systems make more sense with heavily stayed systems. Both of these hybrid style designs can help to pay the bills, and so if cost effective, we need reefs and wave generators too. These other or extra systems are much more expensive as stand alone units, and as such are either not cost effective, or marginal.  Wave energy is concentrated wind from solar, essentially, and our current stand alone system designs are child's play. Third, with the complexity of stayed and reinforced systems, (designed primarily to reach but with all the secondary serendipitous achievements) comes adjustability.  Big square rigged ships had adjustability and complexity. Their rigs were steel, and their hulls were steel, and at the turn of the twentieth century steam winches were often used.  "Hunker Down" is what a rig does when the wind blows too hard for the design parameters, both in sail ships and also with windmills there is no difference in principle here.  So we can go with "up-down" or hunker down systems. These are systems to raise and lower heights of the stick and stay upper parts of the "whole forrest wind mill system", which all needs modeling as well the tripe system (track-pipe energy storage, commodification and shipment) to engage with these massive horse powers at scale necessary to solving the global climate crisis and such. Proper scale systems aren't my opinions or ideas, but just facts related to the need.   

Ground variations are important, in our time, with our lovable little pretty single stick unstayed "toys". This is our low indeed state of the art. And annoyingly we are still trying to plug all this into the unwilling electric grid. It almost seems immoral.  As soon as we figure out that going high, using tied in stayed systems, then we can make real money. Fooling around at these low altitudes is small thinking. This marriage, dare I say bordering on bestiality, to the electric grid is mechanically speaking ... still very ill-advised due to the market,scale,storage issues. Is the energy market a machine or a mess?  Good Question, for another day. 

The Plains Mill Mega Mill system, a sister, would need forty or fifty square miles of area to construct, in the same GB Mega Mill style.  These would be massive energy centers, and could not be viable loading the electric grids, directly. But this is a debatable point. So this is why I have been proposing "common denominator" green energy fuels and green grid systems.  Using tripe style compressed air and hydrogen we leave wind intermittancy, storage and shipment, in the dust bin of history, but there is of yet no interest, even in the theory and modeling.  As a proud and hard working amateur fisherman/engineer/scientist ...  this horrifies me. There are lots of questions that need answers, and too few willing to be curious.  

 

 I wonder if instead of wind data towers we could use some kind of a stock kite design.   This would allow many more test sites. The three ton trailer mounted kites would generate a bit of electricity, for measurement purposes.   We are still in early first generation wind mill design mode. We are in a pre-wind power era. And so we are hyper interested in the low strata winds, where the money isn't.  With stayed systems comes complexity, and this is good, as square rigged ships were good.  The Prussen was a steel hulled square rigged ship that was hauling a full cargo of nitrites when it was wrecked.  There was a situation where the Prussen was overtaking a steam vessel, and the winds were high, driving the Prussen at about 18 kts.  It was calculated the vessel needed about 5-6,000 HP for this speed.  I believe in getting beyond the first generation of mills progressing to the next final two generations, venturi, and square rig.  These are mills to power the world, easily, as there is much horsepower in wind.  We're just in a struggle mode as we have not deduced a worthy mission through modeling, proper scale systems, or machines.  Our mission is mismatched to the need.  Low level wind velocities, along with all the toys, don't butter the energy need biscuit. 

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