Researcher Contributes to Paper Posing Three Challenges to Wind Energy Potential

man outside writing on a clipboard

Jonathan Naughton, a Department of Mechanical Engineering professor who directs UW’s Wind Energy Research Center, contributed to a “call to action” article that appears in the journal Science today. The paper addresses three “grand challenges” that will drive the innovation needed for wind to become one of the world’s primary sources of low-cost electricity generation. (UW Photo)

A University of Wyoming faculty member is among a team of international authors inviting the scientific community to address three “grand challenges” that will drive the innovation needed for wind to become one of the world’s primary sources of low-cost electricity generation.

Jonathan Naughton, a Department of Mechanical Engineering professor who directs UW’s Wind Energy Research Center, contributed to the researchers’ “call to action” article that appears in the journal Science today (Oct. 10).

“While wind energy is a controversial topic in Wyoming, it is poised to become a primary source of electricity generation for the world,” Naughton says. “We’ve identified three scientific grand challenges that need to be addressed to realize the technology’s full potential. With some of the best wind resources in North America, Wyoming should be a participant in addressing these challenges.”

In fall 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) convened more than 70 wind experts representing 15 countries, including Naughton, to discuss a future electricity system in which wind could serve the global demand for clean energy. Based on this workshop, members of the group identified the three major challenges in wind energy research that require further progress from the scientific community. They are:

— Improved understanding of the wind resource and flow in the region of the atmosphere where wind power plants operate.

— Addressing the structural and system dynamics of the largest rotating machines in the world.

— Designing and operating wind power plants to support and foster grid reliability and resiliency.

Addressing these challenges could enable wind power to provide as much as half of global electricity needs, the researchers say.

“People think that, because wind turbines have worked for decades, there’s no room for improvement. And, yet, there’s so much more to be done,” says NREL Research Fellow and article co-author Paul Veers. “Wind energy has the potential to be a primary source of low-cost energy for the world, but we won’t get there on a business-as-usual trajectory. We need scientists and researchers worldwide to join us in addressing wind’s research challenges.”

The authors note that the challenges are interrelated, so progress in each area must build on concurrent advances in the other two. Characterizing the wind power plant operating zone in the atmosphere will be essential to designing the next generation of even larger wind turbines and achieving dynamic control of the machines. Enhanced forecasting of the nature of the atmospheric inflow will subsequently enable the control of the plant in the manner necessary for electrical grid support.

Naughton studies unsteady aerodynamics with applications to aircraft, re-entry vehicles and helicopters. For the past 15 years, Naughton also has worked in the wind energy field, considering unsteady blade flows, atmospheric inflow effects and wind turbine wake behavior.

With a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania University in fluid dynamics, and his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, Naughton joined the UW Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1997 after spending four years at NASA-Ames Research Center in California.

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