Atmospheric research into wind energy
New Zealand has extensive renewable energy in the form of hydro, wind and solar power that generated about 75% of the country’s electricity needs in 2011. However, wind energy has only recently starting to be fully exploited. In 2011, established wind farms produced about 5% of New Zealand’s electricity generation. The government target is for 90% of all electricity generation to come from renewable sources by 2030, wth at least 20% coming from wind energy. There is therefore a lot of interest in establishing wind farms of varying size across the country.
The atmospheric research group in the Geography Department has developed significant knowledge of airflow in complex terrain, as well as strong skills in the operation and application of computer modelling tools to wind mapping and prediction of the wind resource over New Zealand’s rugged landscape. In the mid-2000s the group developed a systematic approach to wind energy prospecting, site evaluation and detailed project analysis using various advanced computer models, that has been commercialised and is currently used by consulting engineers involved in wind farm development. These high resolution mesoscale meteorological models generate hourly wind data at selected horizontal grid resolutions (e.g. 200 m, 800 m, 1 km) and at numerous heights above ground level, and are coupled with industry-standard wind energy models to provide detailed wind and energy analyses for selected areas or specific wind farm sites.
Previous research has included application of similar modelling and analysis tools to investigation of long term variability of the wind energy resource, including assessment of inter-regional correlation of wind within New Zealand. Most of this atmospheric modelling work has been conducted using the University of Canterbury’s supercomputer facilities.
Measurement and microscale modelling techniques have also been used to investigate the effects of turbulence generated in areas of difficult terrain on the siting of wind turbines and to optimise wind farm layout. This involves the use of a SODAR (Sound Detecting and Ranging) wind profiling device, instrumented towers and high resolution computational fluid dynamics models. The atmospheric research group has access to a wide range of instrumentation and technical support to help with deployment and maintenance of equipment.