R&D challenges and needs for wind energy in in hilly and mountainous regions

With all the news about offshore wind, you might think that there aren’t many opportunities for innovation around wind on land.

Fortunately, there’s a lot still to be done, especially in hilly or mountainous terrain, or areas that are prone to turbine blade icing or instrument icing.

We’ve just published a review of the challenges and associated R&D needs in our new paper, “Research challenges and needs for the deployment of wind energy in hilly and mountainous regions”, published today by Wind Energy Science. You can download it for free, here.

Although it’s targeted towards national funding agencies and R&D organisations, we’ve noted a lot of R&D that might be good targets for startups to convert into products. Although they might not make you into a unicorn, there’s definite opportunities for growth, especially if you are an early mover in an area. Add in the highly regional nature of mountainous terrain, and you get some quite defendable markets.

Please take a look and share any thoughts you might have!

With many thanks to my coauthors Sarah Barber, Alexander Stoekl, Helmut Frank, and Timo Karlsson.

Hi Andy,

Thanks for sharing this great paper.

I am working for Goldwind now, the OEM in China. I have read this paper for like 3 times and nearly highlighted every single word :joy: It’s because that the challenges and needs you mentioned in this paper is really what we are facing. I didn’t do the statistic but I believe terrain in China is far more complex than global average. During the last 2 decades, almost a hundred thousand turbines were installed in hilly regions in China. So what my colleagues are working very hard for is to find better resources and to design wind turbine types that are more suitable for complex terrains, just like what your paper pointed out.

Besides complex terrains, I would like to share something more about the China market. To make China a carbon-neutral society by 2060, a huge amout of wind farms has to be built every year forward. But where? The gov has released a very clear message that most new wind/solar farms should be developed in deserts. So I can see a lack in the knowledge and experience for resource characteristics and operational conditions in deserts. Do you have any thoughts about that?

Looking forward to hearing from you.


Hi @liyafei and welcome to the forum!

That’s a really good question about deserts. I’ve not personally looked at wind energy in deserts as a theme, so I asked this question on LinkedIn; we’ll see if anyone has ideas to share.

To me, the question is a combination of “how different are deserts from other operating climates?” and “what experience can we transfer in from other scientific and engineering disciplines”.

There’s a couple of things that spring to mind:

  1. I wonder how applicable the IEC operating conditions standards are in these locations? Do we have enough wind profile observations to answer this question?
  2. Deserts are by definition very dry surfaces and there are usually clear skies, so there must be a big daily variation in the boundary layer structure. That means lots of potential for low level jets and coherent turbulence overnight that could be quite challenging for turbines. Do we ever see high blade root load alarms in those areas? It could be related. I’m aware of lots of research on this in the US, but haven’t seen anything in the journals about China or central Asian deserts.
  3. Simple things like drifting sand and soil can be a pain for operating facilities. They clog filters, get in seals, and obscure roads. It all adds to costs and can reduce reliability. There’s been a fair amount of research on this and it can be managed. It can also potentially be mitigated through ground-cover planting. But, again, no idea if this has been researched directly. It can definitely be transferred over from the snow and earth science communities, though.
  4. Small particles (a few tens of microns in size) can become suspended. This means that they basically fly through the air up to several hundred meters up. I wonder if these cause blade erosion? The small particles will certainly get everywhere. Do technicians report seeing small piles of very fine sand in the nacelles or towers at all?
  5. Drifting and suspended sand and earth will get on PV panels and impact their performance. I know this has been looked at a lot in the US, and maybe there is experience that can be transferred there? We should ask my old colleagues at NREL :slight_smile:

I’m really curious to hear experiences from people who’ve worked in drier areas.

Thanks for all these good ideas. For 1 and 2, I will have a look at our mast database. I think there are a few profile observations that can be used for this study, but the problem is probably the height. Most of them are under 90m. Do you think a scanning lidar with RHI can give us more information about wind conditions in desert? For 3, I have seen some work about using SAR satellite imageries to detect sand dune moving. Not sure if this data is ready to use for wind industry. For 4, we do have found quite heavy blade soiling problem in some high Air Quality Index regions like eastern China with dense population and heavy industries. Perheps that will happen in deserts.

Thank you again and I will update the post in I find something new from our wind resource assessment data and daily operating data.