Engineers breathe new life into wind power concept for southeastern Ohio
June 21, 2010
For years, wind maps of Ohio have predicted that the Appalachian region is a poor resource for wind energy. But a new study by a team of Ohio University undergraduates and engineer Carole Womeldorf might show that the area is more suited to the alternative power concept than previously thought.
Womeldorf, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and students Zach Fetchu, Giffin Whites, and Patrick Seders launched the Wind Energy Assessment Visualization project in December to take a new look at whether the region could yield the type of wind speeds that can economically generate power.
The project, funded by a development grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, examines various wind character-istics, including wind speed, direction, temperature, pressure, and relative humidity at heights well above the local hills and ridges. The team will measure the density of wind power blowing in a 2,000-square-mile region (a 25-mile radius circle) across Athens and surrounding areas, including parts of Meigs, Morgan, Perry, Vinton, Washington, and Hocking counties.
Current wind resource maps publish estimates based on models designed for flatter terrain, and their predictions aren’t very reliable for the hills and ridges in this area, Womeldorf says. With local measurements and a customized numerical modeling approach, “we’ll be able to find the best wind sites this area has to offer with much higher confidence,” she says.
The researchers chose Ohio University’s WOUB television tower, which measures 262 meters tall, to capture wind readings. The team gathers data via sensors attached to booms, poles that connect to the tower perpendicularly. There are two booms placed at six heights on the tower, from 43 meters to 241 meters. Each boom measures 29 feet long. Womeldorf receives an e-mail every night with measurements that were recorded every 10 minutes by the sensors the day before.
Whites, an undergraduate mechanical engineering major and data analyst on the project, explains that the height and large number of booms is essential to the success of the research.
“Because of the hills, we need to reach higher to find out the driving winds above,” he says. “It won’t be perfect, but with those winds in our model, we’ll be able to perform a detailed energy assessment across a large part of southeastern Ohio.”
If the booms show good wind readings, the project could point to a new renewable energy option for the region. Wind turbines could be strategically installed, producing electricity for households and businesses. Jobs would be generated during construction and for longer-term operations and maintenance.
Though the project is in its early stages, the students were encouraged by the data from a high-velocity windstorm that came through the area during the second week of December. They’re curious to see what the weather holds for 2010.
“It’s all about relying on what the wind is going to do,” says Fetchu, a junior in mechanical engineering working on the project. “We’re going to need some booming, strong winds in the future in order to be successful.”
By Bridget Peterlin
This story also will appear in the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of Perspectives magazine.