Wind turbines make noise – there is no denying it. Many living near potential sites for the turbines worry about the potential clamor a wind farm might make, but this is often vastly overstated. Now, a group of scientists are working to reduce the noise made by the green power sources – and increase efficiency in the process.

How loud are wind turbines?
It’s a matter of great debate. Those who protest the institution of wind farms, often called by the acronym “NIMBY” – short for “not in my back yard” – say they cause an unbearable din, but that is no doubt an exaggeration. Instead, it’s important to look closer and see just how intrusive the noise is.

If one stands at blade level only inches in front of them as they are spinning, the sound is equivalent to a lawnmower, according to GE Reports. Yet no one will experience it in such a way – in fact, turbines will at the minimum be 1,000 feet from homes in a residential area. At that distance, it is hardly louder than the hum of a refrigerator.

It is still fair for residents to be concerned about the noise, of course – and some scientists are working to reduce it.

Broad improvement
A quieter blade would be a more efficient blade as well, because cutting more cleanly through the air would reduce the lost power and offer a great boost to sustainability. General Electric is hard at work on a replacement blade, which would be an improvement in a variety of ways, according to Mark Jonkhof, wind technology platform leader at GE Global Research.

“There’s no question, aerodynamic noise is a key constraint in wind turbine blade design today,” Jonkhof told Manufacturing Digital. “By using high-performance computing to advance current engineering models that are used to predict blade noise, we can build quieter rotors with greater blade tip velocity that produce more power. This not only means lower energy costs for consumers, but also a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”

The wind installation will be going sky-high in the coming years – as the source notes, nearly 240 gigawatts of new wind power is expected to be created globally in only the next five years. A reduction of only 1 decibel results in a two percent annual increase in power generated. That two percent increase on 240 gigawatts would create 5 extra gigawatts, which would be enough to power New York City, Los Angeles and Boston combined for an entire year.

Moving to New Mexico
GE conducted its research at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, focusing on wind turbine blade noise prediction methods. The company has done measurements in wind tunnels and field experiments to determine ideal noise levels. In addition, they have conducted elaborate testing on Sandia’s supercomputers, which run a high-fidelity code called Large Eddy Simulation, a Stanford University system that predicts detailed fluid dynamics and the resultant noise. The computing power Sandia offered has been integral to the process, according to Jonkhof.

“Having access to Sandia’s supercomputer was invaluable in our ability to conduct these experiments and make discoveries that will bolster wind power’s potential,” he told Clean Technica. “Access and availability to HPC resources offers a critical advantage to companies trying to compete in a global environment.”

The company’s testing has yielded only new models and insight so far, but it is hopeful that it will soon change into a boost in efficiency in the field. With more improvements, it could make wind energy the obvious electricity choice for any homeowner.