Supercomputing for Research and Industry

HPC Midlands case study


Predicting the impact of air flow on off-shore energy generation


Loughborough University’s School of Civil and Building Engineering and School of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering, and the E.ON Group

Nature of collaboration

Engineering Doctorate, funded by E.ON and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Off-shore wind farms are recognised as having enormous potential to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and contribute significantly to UK renewable energy generation targets. However, they demand huge levels of investment and, if that is to be justified, there needs to be greater certainty about financial and environmental returns. Loughborough University has considerable expertise in wind energy generation and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modelling, the branch of physics used for detailed prediction of air flows. This specialist expertise, combined with access to the high performance computing (HPC) infrastructure and know-how, made the University the ideal partner for E.ON.

The key question to be addressed is how the wakes – or trails of disturbed air between one turbine and the next – interact and affect power output from other turbines. Underpinning research by co-investigator, Professor Simon Watson from the Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology (CREST) at Loughborough University, is proving invaluable for Luca Lavaroni who, as part of his Engineering Doctorate, is working on this challenge as a research engineer with E.ON. Luca’s work includes CFD simulations, rotor modelling, and validation of modelling techniques against field data in order to develop a simplified, fast and reliable method of calculating the power production of a wind farm. CFD simulations of large domains require the complex computation of vast quantities of data – something that can only be achieved using a combination of HPC hardware and specialist software such as that supplied by Ansys, global experts in engineering simulation software.

The challenge

Financial return and environmental impact are directly linked to the amount of electricity that will be generated from an array of turbines long term. For E.ON, accurate and rapid predictions of energy generation are essential if they are to justify investing in off-shore wind. While it is relatively straightforward to use well proven CFD methods to predict flows in and around buildings, automobiles and engineering components, flows around large numbers of wind turbines and the resulting interactions of these flows is complex and presents significant challenges. Previous work has resulted in both under- and over-predictions of the energy yield.


Early evidence indicates that the new models being developed could increase the accuracy of the energy yield prediction. The next stage is to do more work on the simplified prediction model which has the potential to provide E.ON with a tremendous competitive edge as it will enable them to gather commercially important evidence more rapidly than their competitors. Lionel Mazzella, Plant Modelling Team Leader at E.ON said: “The use of HPC Midlands will provide the E.ON Group with a worldclass supercomputing infrastructure that will greatly enhance our modelling capacity. Furthermore, we have benefited from the excellent academic expertise at Loughborough University and we look forward to extending this collaboration.”

The approach

The team at Loughborough University, led by Professor Malcolm Cook, is working with E.ON to use CFD to model air flows through large off-shore wind farms and to develop a simple, press-of-abutton method for predicting their energy yield.

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