Sandia LabNews

Advanced wind energy projects test facility moving to Texas Tech University

Sandia is moving its wind energy test facility to a new location near the campus of Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Sandia, Texas Tech, and Group NIRE are pursuing a three-way research agreement under which this facility will operate. DOE’s Wind & Water Power program is funding Sandia’s work. Group NIRE is a clean energy company providing project development, finance and consulting services.

The site will perform primarily experimental work in turbine-to-turbine interactions and will evaluate innovative rotor technologies. It will also investigate such areas as aero-acoustics, aero-elasticity, and structural health monitoring using embedded sensor systems.

“Wind flows into a turbine, and we understand how the turbine responds,” says Sandia project lead Jon White (6121). “But what we aren’t as clear on is what happens to the wind as it leaves that turbine and moves to the next turbine.

“We don’t have a great deal of clarity about how wind turbines interact with each other,” he adds. “Once you understand that, you can better optimize performance for an entire wind farm rather than just focusing on optimizing individual turbines.”

Researchers also will continue work on the structural mechanical adaptive rotor technology (SMART) rotor program at the Lubbock site. “Most wind turbine rotors today are passive structures. Sandia’s SMART rotors have active surfaces similar to airplane wings, with actuators that change their shape, allowing for greater control and flexibility,” Jon says.

The Lubbock site will include an initial installation of two wind turbines and three anemometer towers, with the potential to expand to nine or more wind turbines, which will allow researchers to examine how individual turbines and whole wind farms can become better “citizens of the grid” and how they can be more
productive and collaborative, Jon says.

Selecting a location was not easy, says Dave Minster (6121), manager of Wind Energy Technologies.

Potential wind farm and wind research sites fall into classes one through five, with class five winds being the preferred wind for research and for harvesting energy. However, only a small percentage of available sites are class five. Winds vary year-round and change seasonally, Dave says, so the site needed to be carefully characterized to ensure year-round quality wind for rapid evaluation of technologies.

But a great facility takes more than wind.

“We looked for a location that not only had a great wind resource, but also had a true commitment to wind energy; the partnership with Texas Tech does just that,” Jon says.

The Texas Tech University Wind Science and Engineering (WISE) center, located at Reese Technology Center, brings a 35-year history in wind science research to the collaboration.

“WISE has strong academic program from which to draw faculty and students, and significant facilities that
include a 200-meter anemometer tower, a 9,000-squarefoot assembly building and a class 5 (very energetic)
wind site,” Jon says.

Another partner, Group NIRE, will provide direct pathways for technology transfer to industry.

“With its other partners, Group NIRE will install additional megawatt-scale wind turbines at an adjacent
site for testing and collaboration,” Jon says.

Sandia’s wind energy program has shared an instrumental partnership for more than 35 years with the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) large research facility in Bushland, Texas. Much of Sandia’s wind testing has taken place at the Bushland site, from the early days of vertical axis wind turbines to today’s work on sensors and smart rotors. Given the research needs of the industry, however, Sandia and the USDA
agreed that a different location was in the best interest of both organizations.

“The Lubbock site will continue the tradition of evaluating next-generation technology, such as SMART
rotor, operational load monitoring, and structural health monitoring technologies, which seek to improve energy capture and reduce operations and maintenance costs,” says Dave. “These national test beds expand the nation’s knowledge base and capability in the design and advancements of composite wind turbine blades and turbine reliability, and that could help reduce the cost of wind energy.”

Dave expects work at the Lubbock facility to begin this fall.

Texas Tech University is home to more than 31,600 undergraduate and graduate students. Texas Tech is a comprehensive higher education institution providing education in a wide variety of disciplines ranging from
the arts to the sciences. Texas Tech has an internationally recognized wind engineering program with a 67-
acre research facility. For more information about the university, go to

Group NIRE is currently developing wind projects in six states and working with several international renewable energy component manufacturers to commercialize new products and technologies. For more information about NIRE, contact Mark Harral, director of commercial development, at 806-771-7722.