Solar power boosts Argonne’s new wind farm efforts

By Devin Hodge, Environmental Project Manager, FMS

Argonne National Laboratory is using solar-powered acoustic radar to determine the best location for its new wind farm. Wind turbines capture carbon-free energy — just one of many green alternative-energy solutions that Argonne is implementing on-site.

The laboratory’s Sustainability Program is using the solar-powered echo sounding device called Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) to conduct a preliminary study that will assess the wind potential of future wind farm locations on Argonne’s property. SODAR has two solar panels and a battery bank that provides all of the electricity needed to operate the self-contained system.

SODAR is a portable, trailer-mounted device that uses a process similar to echolocation — a sound-bouncing process that bats and dolphins use to navigate — to measure both horizontal and vertical wind speed measurements. A 48-speaker array is used to both transmit and receive high-frequency sound waves. By measuring the Doppler shifts caused by wind currents, the SODAR unit can instantly provide wind speed feedback ranging from an elevation of 60 feet to more than 600 feet.

The SODAR unit was lent to Argonne for this study by the Renewable Energy Center at Illinois State University and two interns from the university are assisting Argonne personnel with the process.

The Sustainability Program hopes to find suitable levels of wind in the eastern edge of Argonne’s property, along Cass Avenue just south of I-55, for small scale — 60-feet tall — wind turbines. Using SODAR, the wind can be measured for long periods of time at the prospective location and exact turbine height. This data will be analyzed to determine the placement, estimated power output, and cost-effectiveness of the future wind farm.

Argonne’s wind farm will not only produce clean energy, it will also be beneficial to smart grid research, including experiments on dispatching electricity and possibly even battery storage.

The Sustainability Program expects to have construction of the new wind farm complete by the end of 2011.

Posted Jun. 28, 2011