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Understanding how wind farms interact with wind can optimize their power  

The quest for renewable energy solutions has led to a surge in the development of wind farms worldwide. However, the rapid expansion of wind farms raises questions about their broader environmental impacts and the efficiency of their operation. 

Researchers from the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO) and the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands embarked on a study to address these concerns. The team set out to investigate how wind farms influence airstream patterns and the surrounding atmosphere.

Focus of the study

For the investigation, the experts developed a sophisticated modeling framework aimed at enhancing the accuracy of wind energy forecasts and the productivity of wind farms. 

This initiative is not just about maximizing energy output. It is a deep dive into understanding how large-scale wind farms could potentially alter natural wind patterns, an area of study that has become increasingly relevant as wind farms grow in size and number.

Optimizing power output 

“Wind farms are getting so large that they can actually alter the structure of the incoming wind,” explained Dr. Joshua Brinkerhoff, an associate professor in UBCO’s School of Engineering. “The structure they are researching, which engineers call the atmospheric boundary layer, monitors how the wind’s speed, temperature and pressure varies with altitude.”

Understanding and predicting the changes in wind are critical for the strategic placement of turbines within a farm to optimize power output.

Designing wind farms 

The challenge of efficiently designing wind farms is multifaceted. It involves the selection of suitable locations for the farms themselves, as well as the precise positioning of each turbine to maximize energy generation. In this context, the researchers’ work on developing the Toolbox for Stratified Convective Atmospheres (TOSCA) is particularly noteworthy. 

TOSCA is an open-source framework designed for large-scale studies of wind farm-atmosphere interactions, offering new insights into the dynamics of boundary layer turbulence and atmospheric flow conditions around wind farms.

Broader implications 

Sebastiano Stipa, a doctoral student involved in the project, highlighted the capability of TOSCA to address critical challenges in wind energy. 

“The results of this research will lead to a better understanding of potential wind farm power estimates and an increase in their energy outputs,” said Stipa. “This new modeling framework can serve as a roadmap for the industry.”

Dr. Brinkerhoff noted that the computer modeling can help when wind farms are being established, especially to forecast whether they can create energy efficiently.

“The most significant finding is that our model can capture the interaction between large wind farms and the oncoming wind,” said Dr. Brinkerhoff. “To date, this hasn’t been captured properly, leading to overestimation of how much power a wind farm will produce. This kind of overestimation is financially disastrous for the wind farm operators.”

More about wind energy

Wind energy is a form of renewable power generated by harnessing the wind’s kinetic energy. This process involves using wind turbines, which are tall structures equipped with blades that rotate when blown by the wind. 

The turbines are connected to generators that convert the mechanical energy of spinning blades into electrical energy. Wind farms, which can be located onshore or offshore, consist of multiple turbines and are designed to capture the wind’s energy on a large scale.


One of the key benefits of wind energy is its sustainability. Unlike fossil fuels, wind energy does not produce greenhouse gases or pollutants, making it environmentally friendly. It’s also inexhaustible, as wind is a natural and renewable resource.

The operational costs of wind turbines are relatively low once they are installed and operational, although initial costs can be high due to the technology and infrastructure required.


The efficiency and productivity of wind energy can vary depending on wind speeds, which are influenced by geographical location, time of year, and weather conditions.

Areas with consistently high wind speeds, such as coastal regions and hilltops, are ideal for wind farms. The technology behind wind turbines continues to advance, leading to more efficient and less obtrusive designs.


Despite its benefits, wind energy also faces challenges. These include the variability of wind, which can affect power supply consistency, and the potential impact on wildlife, such as birds and bats. Additionally, the visual and auditory impact of wind turbines can lead to community opposition.

The study is published in the journal Wind Energy Science

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