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International Conference on Future Technologies for Wind Energy October 24-26, 2017, Boulder, Colorado, USA

RANS Simulation of Atmospheric Boundary Layer Flow over Complex Terrain with Validation of
Field Measurements under Neutral Stability Condition

Yi Han* and Michael Stoellinger*

*Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, U.S.A.,

In this work, we analyse the field data collected on several meteorological towers (met-towers) located in
a wind farm site and conduct the corresponded atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) flow simulation with
k- ε Reynold-Averaged-Navier-Stokes (RANS) turbulence model over a complex terrain within it. The
field measurement data under the neutral stability conditions is filtered out by the wind shear exponent
parameters estimated from three above-ground-levels (AGL) on the reference tower with absence of the
temperature measurement and the behaviours of other towers within the domain will be analyzed
accordingly. The numerical results in terms of mean wind speed and standard deviation profiles on the
met-towers location from neutral RANS simulation, which is driven by the wind profile on the reference
tower with appropriate boundary conditions, will be validated by making comparison to met-towers data.

Keywords: RANS, atmospheric boundary layer, complex terrain, field measurements, neutral condition

Currently, the focus of wind energy project innovation is shifting from individual turbine
performance to overall wind plant performance characteristics, resulting in a significant drop of wind
electricity generation costs [1]. On-shore wind farms are often located in regions with complex terrain
features which can strongly modify the atmospheric turbulence. Recent efforts to simulate flows in such
terrain have struggled to assess their results due to the lack of available field measurements data. In this
work, we analyse the field data collected on several meteorological towers located in a wind farm site and
conduct corresponding ABL simulations over the complex terrain within the site using RANS modelling.
To sort the wind data according to the different atmospheric stabilities (especially in neutral
condition) with the absence of the vertical temperature measurements, two approaches by evaluating the
dimensionless wind shear exponent estimated from anemometers at three AGL measurements is applied.
The ABL flow simulations are performed using the OpenFOAM-based simulator for on/offshore wind
farm applications (SOWFA) [2]. Currently the solver has mostly been used for ABL flow over flat terrain.
The k-e turbulence model and new boundary conditions are applied and extended to the basic solver in
order to make it more suitable for the real ABL flow simulations over complex terrain. The numerical
results of flow over Sierra Madre site are validated by making comparisons with the analyzed field
measurement data on the meteorological towers under neutral stability conditions in terms of mean wind
speed and standard deviation profiles.

Terrain selection and Met-tower data analysis

The focused area is located in the Sierra Madre (SM) wind farm site in south-central Wyoming. So
far 15 met-towers have been deployed on the particular locations within SM site to record data for periods
ranging from two to seven years. The computational domain containing typical complex topography in
form of a prominent ridge and all met-towers has a size of 18 kilometers long by 15 kilometers wide is
oriented such that the mean stream-wise (x-) direction is aligned with the prevalent wind from 227.5o over
this area, which is shown in Fig.1. Met-tower SM 03 which is installed among a fairly flat terrain is
chosen as the reference tower to lead the neutral filtering process of the field data. The anemometer at
each AGL captures the wind speed and direction at 1Hz and these data are averaged and stored over 10
minute interval in terms of mean and standard deviation. Due to the lack of the temperature information
on each met-tower, the atmospheric stability is accessed through the dimensionless wind shear exponent
parameter α . One approach is based on the exact value of wind shear exponent ( 0.1 < α < 0.2 ) within a
International Conference on Future Technologies for Wind Energy October 24-26, 2017, Boulder, Colorado, USA

reasonable measuring height range [3] and another approach focuses on the vertical gradient
( 0 < ∂α / ∂z < 0.0012 ) of the it [4]. Both methods are applied here such that the optimum one could be
determined in our case.
RANS simulation and appropriate boundary conditions
A structured grid with a horizontal resolution of 15m and a vertical resolution varying from 4m
adjacent to the ground to 40m at the top of the domain is created using the commercial software
Pointwise. The incompressible RANS equations are modified in SOWFA with the reprojection of
Coriolis forces on the rotated coordinate system. The two equation k- ε model, which has become a
standard among practitioners in computational wind engineering, is applied for simulating ABL turbulent
flows. The inflow boundary is created by running a fully periodic “precursor” simulation over a flat
terrain with consideration of Coriolis effects such that the numerical wind profile at the reference tower
location has a good agreement with the field measurements. The lateral and top boundaries are
implemented in order to allow for in – and outflow due to the local terrain change and Coriolis force [5].
The rough wall function is applied on the surface boundary and Neumann zero gradient condition is acted
on the outlet boundary.
Preliminary results and final projections
The field measurement data collected on reference tower SM 03 is filtered out under the neutral
stability condition by applying both α value and α gradient methods. They are compared to the
numerical results in terms of three AGL mean wind speed and standard deviation profiles in order to
ensure the appropriate inflow condition which is about to be fed into the real complex terrain simulation.
The comparisons are shown in Fig.2. In the final presentation, the results of neutral ABL simulation over
the whole complex terrain covering all the met-towers within SM wind site will be analysed qualitatively
to verify the proper behaviour of the flow and the quantitative comparison with each of the
meteorological tower data will be detailed explained in terms of mean wind speed and standard deviation.
Moreover, the Reynolds stress equation model (RSM) will be applied in addition to the standard k- ε
model to instigate the sensitivity of the results to the chosen RANS model.

(a) Mean wind speed (m/s) (b) Standard deviation (m/s)

Figure 1. Domain selection on SM site Figure 2. Comparison of wind profile on tower SM03: (a) velocity (b) standard deviation

This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-FOA-0001087.
1. United States Department of Energy, 2015: Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States”.
2. M.Churchfield and et al, 2012: Adding complex terrain and stable atmospheric condition capability to the OpenFOAM-
based flow solver of the simulator for on/offshore wind farm applications (SOWFA), ITM Web of Conference 2 02001.
3. Sonia Wharton and Julie K. Lundquist, 2011: Assessing atmospheric stability and its impacts on rotor-disk wind
characteristics at an onshore wind farm. Wind Energy (15) :525–546
4. Sakagami, Yoshiaki and et al., 2015: A simple method to estimate Atmospheric Stability using Lidar Wind Profiler,
EWEA Offshore 2015 – Copenhagen
5. Yi Han, Michael Stoellinger and Jonathan Naughton, 2016: Large eddy simulation for atmospheric boundary layer
flow over flat and complex terrains, Journal of Physics: Conference Series 2016-032044