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UW Receives $4.25 Million DOE Grant to Explore Wind Energy

September 26, 2014
Man standing in front of wind turbine
Jonathan Naughton, a UW professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Wind Energy Research Center, is the principal investigator of a $4.25 million Department of Energy EPSCoR grant UW recently received. (Wyoming Business Images Photo)

The University of Wyoming has received a $4.25 million Department of Energy-EPSCoR grant to research wind farm modeling, transmission grid monitoring and the economics derived from wind-generated power.

The three-year federally competitive grant began Aug. 15 and will involve six UW departments --mechanical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, atmospheric science, economics and finance, statistics, and agriculture and applied economics.

The grant will support 12 researchers from those five UW departments as well as researchers from Montana Tech. Researchers from other academic institutions, Cornell University and Western Ontario University, and four national government labs -- the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden and Boulder, Colo.; Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.; and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. -- are expected to be involved in the work.

“The grant will be used to look at barriers for penetration of renewables into the electrical grid,” says Jonathan Naughton, a UW professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of UW’s Wind Energy Research Center. Naughton is the principal investigator of the grant. “Our focus is on wind. Obviously, for Wyoming, that’s most prevalent. This is work relevant to the state’s economy.”

Potential impacts of the project include: improved location placement of wind farms; better control and efficiency of wind farm generation; more reliable integration of wind generation with the power grid; and a better understanding of the economic benefits of wind farms and grid optimization.

UW provided a $1 million match for the grant, Naughton says.

Three areas of research

The project focuses on three principal, interdependent areas or thrusts.

--Development of and optimization of wind plant performance.

The wind plant modeling capability will provide a better understanding of complete wind farm responses to slow and rapid transient weather events; provide information for potential wind farm turbine siting in complex terrain; and allow the design and testing of control strategies for optimizing power output and reliability of entire wind farms.

Currently, wakes created between wind turbines reduce the wind available to the turbine behind it and create energy loss.

“How do you place your wind turbines to maximize power production at a given site? Right now, we’re pretty awful at that,” Naughton says. “Right now, we can predict the wind power of one wind turbine pretty accurately. There is a lack of understanding of wakes and how wakes behave under different atmospheric conditions.”

--Development of a measurement-based transmission grid modeling capability.

In recent years, electrical utilities and the DOE have invested a sizable amount of money into a new power grid monitoring system. This system takes power-related measurements, called synchrophasors, from throughout the power grid at a higher data rate than ever before, says John Pierre, a UW professor of electrical and computer engineering, who is a co-investigator on the grant.

“Part of our project will look at this data to better understand how high use of wind power is impacting the reliability of the power grid,” Pierre says. “Already, unusual oscillations or variations in the power on transmission lines have been observed when high wind penetration is present.”

The goal is a safe and reliable grid that reduces the chances of widespread power outages.

--Development of fully integrated economic models for more diverse and variable energy generation and transmission scenarios.

While Wyoming likely will never tap the full potential of the state’s wind resource because of the astronomical cost of transmission capacity and financing, as well as construction of other wind energy projects around the nation, some significant capacity likely will be built out in the state, says Robert Godby, a UW associate professor of economics and finance, and a co-investigator on the grant.

A prime example is the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Plant, proposed on property south of Rawlins. If built, it would be the largest wind farm in the United States. At 3,000 megawatts, it would more than double Wyoming’s 1,400-megawatt capacity at existing wind farms.

The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority (WIA) has been involved with another energy renewable project, the TransWest Express Transmission Project. The 725-mile-long DC high-voltage transmission line would likely take two to three years to build once approved.

“Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Plant could be nearing completion in five years, given the permitting work and efforts to secure financing already complete,” Godby says. “These are very large-scale projects that would have significant impacts on the power infrastructure and the region, and the local economy.”

California is considered a leader in wind-produced electricity, but also uses a large amount of energy, including solar. Wyoming, by contrast, has some of the world’s best wind resources, but is a net energy exporter. This means Wyoming has an abundance of energy, which it sells to other locations that are unable to meet their own power demands. In early 2013, Naughton produced a study, commissioned by the WIA, on the subject.

“Wind here tends to be available in greater amounts more often than wind there, and hits a peak in the mid-afternoon, a peak demand time in California and, therefore, a resource with significantly more value than wind resources in that state,” Godby says. “Clean wind power from Wyoming could be very cost-competitive with resources in California.”

Interdisciplinary collaboration

The success of the project will rely on cooperation and extensive data sharing among university researchers with diverse backgrounds and regional wind farm operators and power companies. The WIA, Power Co. of Wyoming and Bonneville Power Administration, groups that support the grant, will benefit.

“Part of the reason I think this grant was funded was the integration of a whole range of topics,” Naughton says. “It’s very interdisciplinary.”

“The grant has larger effects than just building wind farms,” Naughton continues. “It’s building on UW’s strength in energy research as well as its development of computational capabilities. This is a great fit with the university’s expertise and the state’s economic development.”

Bryan Shader, UW’s special assistant to the vice president of research and economic development, and professor of mathematics, concurs. He says the grant project will strengthen strategic alliances between UW and national laboratories; relationships between the university and Wyoming industries; and will have significant impact.

“The project will add to UW’s computational and data-enabled science and engineering capabilities through purchase of high-performance, data-storage equipment, which will be interconnected with UW’s Mount Moran computer system and the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center,” Shader says.

The grant can be extended another three years with additional funding, Naughton says.


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