Windtech: Smarter Blades - Laser sensors for load control

Laser-based wind direction sensor systems integrated into individual rotor blades could increase energy production by up to 5% over the 20-year life of a wind plant, says LM Glasfiber, the world's largest independent supplier of blades.

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LM is taking part in a three-year research project to test the concept, which aims to increase the efficiency and overall reliability of turbines by significantly improving control of loads on the rotor. By measuring the wind before it hits the rotor, laser sensors, also known as light detecting and ranging (lidar) technology, provide the wind turbine control system with advance information on the exact angle and strength of the wind energy flow. The control system can then instantly adjust the blade and/or the wind turbine for maximum energy capture and power production. The company says: "We have planned to use a lidar on each blade combined with a central lidar in the nacelle."

"Whereas current blade monitoring technologies measure the loads on the blades, integrating lidars into the blade enables us to measure the exact wind conditions to which the blades are exposed," says LM's research director, Lars Fuglsang. "So basically, this means that instead of looking in the rear-view mirror and realising what the blade has been exposed to, we will be able to measure the wind real-time and either have the blade or the wind turbine react on this right away." A prototype of the new application of lidar technology should be available in 2012, with LM expecting to supply its customers with lidar-enabled intelligent blades by 2014.

The project is supported by the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation and carried out jointly with the Danish National Laboratory at Riso and Danish company NKT Photonics, a designer and manufacturer of microstructured fibres and high-power fibre amplifiers for industry. NKT opened a US division in Morganville, New Jersey, last year, in addition to an established German division. LM is owned by Doughty Hanson, an independent private equity firm based in London.

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