Bee Behavior Aids Turbine Positioning for Maximum Output

November 09, 2022 by Stephanie Leonida

University researchers are developing a modified algorithm based on honeybee behavior to help wind turbine engineers position wind turbines for maximum performance.

In recent research in the International Journal of Renewable Energy Technology, researchers applied a swarm intelligence-based optimization algorithm (based on the altruistic behavior of honeybees) to the positioning of wind turbines at wind farm sites to allow for optimal performance.



A bee swarm at a coffee farm.

A bee swarm at a coffee farm. Image used courtesy of Bees4life


How Do Wind Turbines Provide Electrical Power?

Wind turbines are a means of sourcing renewable energy. The first wind turbine was invented in 1887 by Professor James Blyth. Today, more than 400,000 wind turbines are used worldwide. 

Wind turbine blades capture kinetic energy from the wind, which rotates a shaft connected to an electrical generator inside a nacelle (a structure on top of the turbine tower). The generator converts mechanical power into electrical power for distribution to homes and businesses.


Key Factors Affect Choice of Wind Farm Site

When identifying a potential site for a wind farm, several factors must be considered to make a renewable energy project successful. Selecting a suitable location can help cut construction costs, allow for more efficient maintenance, enhance safety, and provide a more favorable return on investment (ROI).

Wind turbine engineers choose a desirable site for a wind farm based on the wind speed at different heights (perhaps 10 to 50 meters); the geographical location and terrain of a site, which can determine the amount of wind passing through it; as well as the quality of wind available. Sites with a high average wind speed and only slight variations in this speed are favorable. These factors determine whether a site is suitable for smaller or utility-scale wind turbine applications. 

For a site to be favorable, it must also be close to areas where energy demand is high. This can be where population densities are greatest. Such a location can also negate the need to construct new transmission lines, which would be more costly and detrimental to the environment.



A wind farm in the Mojave Desert.

A wind farm in the Mojave Desert. Image used courtesy of National Geographic


Wind Turbine Position Crucial to Efficiency, Power Output

For individual wind turbines, positioning on a wind farm site can determine their efficiency and energy output. For instance, certain areas of a site may get more or less wind than others due to changes in the landscape’s geography.

According to the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, turbines are typically arranged in clusters of around 10 to 100 in wind farms. If turbines are spaced too close together, they can take on large oscillating loads from the wakes of other nearby turbines. This can increase a wind farm’s maintenance costs and reduce power output.

If wind turbines are arranged parallel to one another, those directly behind the first row experience the wakes of those in front, which can reduce the incoming velocity, resulting in less power generation. In a staggered layout, turbines do not fully experience the wakes of other turbines, which translates to greater power output. Despite this, turbine blades can experience unequal loading. This can put stress on the blades and other parts of the turbine, increasing maintenance costs.


Applying Honeybee Behavior to Wind Turbines

Co-authors of the study included Ajay Sharma, Nirmala Sharma, and Harish Sharma of Rajasthan Technical University and Jagdish Chand Bansal of the South Asian University in New Delhi, India.

The researchers explained that honeybee swarming behavior involves the sacrificial removal of bees that are less of a good fit for the behavior so the bees can take their place. 

How does this relate to wind turbines? The proposed self-sacrificing artificial bee colony (SeSABC) algorithm that serves as a model of this behavior was applied to wind turbines. Under the model, the turbines stand in place of the bees, with the position of each turbine in a farm being tested and sacrificed in favor of a more suitable position (based on the effects of turbines nearby and wind patterns).

In this way, the model determines the best position for individual wind turbines in a farm with respect to geographical conditions to achieve optimal power output.

The algorithm can also inform engineers of the maximum number of turbines needed for a given site. The optimal number of these large structures will boost energy production.

The researchers have demonstrated proof of concept for wind farms with radii of 500, 750, and 1,000 meters. The next development stage will involve the integration of real-world geographical landscapes and non-uniform wind patterns.

Updated as of December 7, 2022Do the benefits of wind energy outweigh its costs? Find out the answer in a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report that examines this renewable energy alternative compared with other energy sources. According to the report, the number of domestic wind-related jobs swelled to a record number in 2021, and more than 120,000 Americans were serving in wind industry occupations.