This is a pretty interesting article in Wired by Alexis Madrigal about how laser guidance technology for wind turbines shows promise to increase their efficiency. Notable excerpts are below.
“A new laser system that can be mounted on wind turbines allows them to prepare for the wind rushing toward their blades.
The lasers act like sonar for the wind, bouncing off microscopically small particulates and back to a fiber optic detector. That data is fed to an on-board processor that generates a three-dimensional view of the wind speed and direction. Subtle adjustments in the turbine blade’s angle to the window allows it to capture more energy and protect itself in case of strong gusts.
The startup company that developed the Vindicator system, Catch the Wind, recently deployed a wind unit on a Nebraska Public Power District turbine. It increased the production of the unit (.pdf) by more than 10 percent, according to the company’s white paper. If those numbers held across the nations’ 35 gigawatts of installed wind capacity, the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors could add more than 3.5 gigawatts of wind capacity without adding a single additional turbine.”
“Current wind turbines rely on wind-measuring instruments known as anemometers that are mounted to the back of the turbine’s gear-housing unit, called a nacelle. The data from the wind is fed to a computer that optimizes the blades’ configuration to capture the most energy from the wind.
In many cases, cup anemometers, which took their current form in the 1930s, are still used. They work well enough, but have to be positioned behind the blades, which subjects them to turbulence. And, importantly, they can only tell you how fast the wind was blowing after it passed. That doesn’t help you with a freak gust of wind or any of the odd behavior that renewable energy developers have caught the wind exhibiting.