Hui Hu pulled a model wind turbine from the top of an office filing cabinet.
The turbine tower was just 10 inches high. Its three blades were 10 inches in diameter. It was a perfect 1:320 scale reproduction of the 80-meter diameter wind turbines spinning across Iowa, the country’s second-ranked state in installed wind power capacity. That mini turbine is helping a research team led by Hu, an Iowa State University associate professor of aerospace engineering, understand how hills, valleys, and the placement of turbines affect the productivity of onshore wind farms.
While the wind industry has data about offshore turbine performance over flat water – especially from European studies – Hu said there’s little data about the effects of uneven ground on wind turbines.
And so Hu and his research team have created the mini turbines and started running tests in Iowa State’s $1.25 million Aerodynamic/Atmospheric Boundary Layer Wind and Gust Tunnel.
“We want to work with the wind turbine industry to transfer some of our findings,” Hu said. “We can help boost total energy capture. And we can lengthen the lifetimes of wind turbines, making them more efficient.”