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Better Living Through Lasers
Adam Stein, 12 Nov 08

Wind-sensing light beams could boost windmill output by 10%.


This is cool:

A new fiber-optic laser system can measure wind speed and direction up to 1000 meters in front of a wind turbine, giving the massive machines enough precious seconds to proactively adapt to gusts and sudden changes in wind direction. The device…could improve the efficiency of wind turbines and keep them from breaking down.

The idea is pretty simple. The current generation of wind turbines measure wind speed and direction via anemometers — essentially, weather vanes — placed on the turbines themselves. Using these readings, the turbines automatically adjust their orientation and the pitch of their blades to boost power output and reduce the chance of damage from unexpected gusts.

But anemometers can only tell you what’s already arrived, not what’s coming next. Enter the new LIDAR system from Catch the Wind, Inc. Similar to sonar or radar, LIDAR sends out energy pulses to take readings of objects at a distance. In this case, the energy pulses happen to be laser beams, and the objects in question happen to be dust particles borne by the wind. By creating a three-dimensional picture of the wind 1,000 feet ahead of the turbine, the new system offers the possibility of smarter wind farms that achieve higher power output and reduced wear-and-tear.

There’s nothing new about LIDAR. Catch the Wind’s innovation is to create a more rugged and compact system that can operate in the conditions that wind turbines are required to regularly endure. And a note to animal-lovers: the company claims the system is “eye-safe” and harmless to wildlife.

Adam Stein is a co-founder of TerraPass. He writes on issues related to carbon, climate change, policy, and conservation.

Image credit: Catch the Wind.

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