Better living through lasers

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This is cool:

> A new fiber-optic laser system can measure wind speed and direction up to 1000 meters in front of a wind turbine, giving the massive machines enough precious seconds to proactively adapt to gusts and sudden changes in wind direction. The device…could improve the efficiency of wind turbines and keep them from breaking down.

The idea is pretty simple. The current generation of wind turbines measure wind speed and direction via anemometers — essentially, weather vanes — placed on the turbines themselves. Using these readings, the turbines automatically adjust their orientation and the pitch of their blades to boost power output and reduce the chance of damage from unexpected gusts.

But anemometers can only tell you what’s already arrived, not what’s coming next. Enter the new LIDAR system from Catch the Wind, Inc. Similar to sonar or radar, LIDAR sends out energy pulses to take readings of objects at a distance. In this case, the energy pulses happen to be laser beams, and the objects in question happen to be dust particles borne by the wind. By creating a three-dimensional picture of the wind 1,000 feet ahead of the turbine, the new system offers the possibility of smarter wind farms that achieve higher power output and reduced wear-and-tear.

There’s nothing new about LIDAR. Catch the Wind’s innovation is to create a more rugged and compact system that can operate in the conditions that wind turbines are required to regularly endure. And a note to animal-lovers: the company claims the system is “eye-safe” and harmless to wildlife.

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  1. sparrow - November 12, 2008

    I hope that the cost to excavate materials, manufacture parts, ship and power the resulting laser product has a small enough footprint to justify the theoretical 10% gain.

  2. Darwin - November 12, 2008

    @ sparrow: There would be no point in producing it if it wasn’t directly powered by the turbine and didn’t increase efficiency substantially. If it didn’t… wind farm manufacturers would not have any reason to buy the LIDAR units.

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