NREL Project Investigates Wind Condition Impacts on Solar Power Structures

High wind loads can increase the structural design costs for concentrating solar power (CSP), collector structures such as parabolic troughs and heliostats. In a new two-year project, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will work with the Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to conduct two comprehensive at-scale field measurements of atmospheric turbulent wind conditions and the resulting wind loads on CSP structures. The data sets will help to validate and develop computational models that will be made publically available to the CSP community.

Previous studies used data from wind tunnels which failed to capture the dynamic effects seen at scale. NREL’s wind-energy modeling expertise has been used in recent projects to conduct field measurements at scale to characterize turbulent wind conditions at Nevada Solar One’s CSP facility near Las Vegas. The new project will provide high-resolution measurements which will be used for validation of the high-fidelity computational models developed at NREL.

“The team is composed of members from all over the lab who are working seamlessly to make sure this important project is successful and provides critical information to the CSP plant developers and operators,” says Shashank Yellapantula, a research engineer in NREL’s Computational Science Center.

Yellapantula participated in two SETO projects, one of which was funded previously, and this two-year effort. He has published peer-reviewed papers that validated wind-loading models for parabolic storms. He will be responsible in developing computationally efficient models which can be transferred to industry at end of the project.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues from the Computational Science and National Wind Technology centers,” comments Mark Mehos, NREL’s Thermal Energy Systems group manager within the Center for Energy Conversion & Storage Systems. “Significant funding from the Wind Energy Technologies Office has led to the development of high-fidelity computational fluid-dynamic models and instruments for on-site wind assessment. Leveraging these dollars to support the CSP community benefits all involved and should be a model for future collaboration.”

To ensure that the project is relevant to the industry, the NREL team will be supported by several industry partners and stakeholders. These partners include Schlaich Bergermann Partner and Solar Dynamics, Acciona Energie, and the Australian Solar Thermal Research Institute. The NREL team and Acciona engineers are currently coordinating the wind measurement campaign at Acciona’s Nevada Solar One facility.