February 27, 2017

The Buoy is Back: What Data Can Tell Us About Offshore Wind

Scientists analyze data from one of PNNL's offshore buoys

PNNL’s two offshore research buoys hold an array of advanced research equipment that can assess the energy potential of offshore

Offshore wind has huge potential to meet the nation’s energy needs. Developing just 1 percent of this potential could power nearly 6.5 million homes.

PNNL is working to accelerate prediction of the power-producing potential of offshore wind at an east coast site using two research buoys. DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office(Offsite link) commissioned PNNL to procure and deploy two bright-yellow buoys—each worth $1.3 million. The buoys are decked out with advanced scientific instruments designed to measure wind speed at multiple heights, air and sea surface temperature, barometric pressure, relative humidity, wave height and period, and water conductivity. Doppler sensors measure subsurface ocean currents.

After a 19-month deployment off the coast of Virginia Beach(Offsite link), one of the buoys has returned to shore. In collaboration with the State of Virginia, PNNL examined the quality of the data and discovered that stronger winds produced more accurate data—likely as a result of the additional sea spray high winds generate. The increase in spray provides more particles for the LiDAR (Lighting Detection and Ranging) pulse to bounce off of, improving signal strength and return rates. Similarly, researchers found data recovery rates are higher during the warm season and the daytime.

PNNL also found that above 90 meters (295 feet), signal noise affected the integrity of the data. Further analysis revealed that by removing samples with low signal strengths and averaging data across 10-minute intervals, accurate results could be achieved. Additional analysis performed by researchers at Texas Tech University found offshore winds in the U.S. differ from European offshore environments. In the U.S., winds are more sheared, changing velocity and direction more frequently at lower levels in the atmosphere (low-level jets). While low-level jets do not significantly impact the power performance of an offshore wind turbine, their occurrence might lead to inaccurate assessment of the resource as well as increased fatigue loading on wind turbine components.

The data and buoys will help scientists and developers better understand air-sea interactions and their impact on how much wind energy a turbine could capture at particular offshore sites. The data will also help validate the wind predictions derived from computer models, which have thus far relied on extremely limited real-world observational data in U.S. coastal waters.

For more information, see the PNNL report(PDF) or learn about the Lidar Buoy Loan Program(Offsite link), managed by PNNL.

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About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science. For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Published: February 27, 2017

PNNL Research Team

Rob K. Newsom, Marcus Sturges, and William J. Shaw