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Experimental study of the impact of large-scale wind farms on land–atmosphere exchanges


Part of Focus on the Environmental Impact of Wind Energy

Large-scale wind farms, covering a significant portion of the land and ocean surface, may affect the transport of momentum, heat, mass and moisture between the atmosphere and the land locally and globally. To understand the wind-farm–atmosphere interaction, we conducted wind-tunnel experiments to study the surface scalar (heat) flux using model wind farms, consisting of more than ten rows of wind turbines—having typical streamwise and spanwise spacings of five and four rotor diameters—in a neutral boundary layer with a heated surface. The spatial distribution of the surface heat flux was mapped with an array of surface heat flux sensors within the quasi-developed regime of the wind-farm flow. Although the overall surface heat flux change produced by the wind farms was found to be small, with a net reduction of 4% for a staggered wind farm and nearly zero change for an aligned wind farm, the highly heterogeneous spatial distribution of the surface heat flux, dependent on the wind-farm layout, was significant. The difference between the minimum and maximum surface heat fluxes could be up to 12% and 7% in aligned and staggered wind farms, respectively. This finding is important for planning intensive agriculture practice and optimizing farm land use strategy regarding wind energy project development. The well-controlled wind-tunnel experiments presented in this study also provide a first comprehensive dataset on turbulent flow and scalar transport in wind farms, which can be further used to develop and validate new parameterizations of surface scalar fluxes in numerical models.