Mountain Waves Can Impact Wind Power Generation

Caroline Draxl, Rochelle Worsnop, Geng Xia, Yelena Pichugina, Duli Chand, Julie Lundquist, Justin Sharp, Garrett Wedam, James Wilczak, Larry Berg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus Citations


Mountains can modify the weather downstream of the terrain. In particular, when stably stratified air ascends a mountain barrier, buoyancy perturbations develop. These perturbations can trigger mountain waves downstream of the mountains that can reach deep into the atmospheric boundary layer where wind turbines operate. Several such cases of mountain waves occurred during the Second Wind Forecast Improvement Project (WFIP2) in the Columbia River basin in the lee of the Cascade Range bounding the states of Washington and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Signals from the mountain waves appear in boundary layer sodar and lidar observations as well as in nacelle wind speeds and power observations from wind plants. Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model simulations also produce mountain waves and are compared to satellite, lidar, and sodar observations. Simulated mountain wave wavelengths and wave propagation speeds (group velocities) are analyzed using the fast Fourier transform. We found that not all mountain waves exhibit the same speed and conclude that the speed of propagation, magnitudes of wind speeds, or wavelengths are important parameters for forecasters to recognize the risk for mountain waves and associated large drops or surges in power. When analyzing wind farm power output and nacelle wind speeds, we found that even small oscillations in wind speed caused by mountain waves can induce oscillations between full-rated power of a wind farm and half of the power output, depending on the position of the mountain wave's crests and troughs. For the wind plant analyzed in this paper, mountain-wave-induced fluctuations translate to approximately 11% of the total wind farm output being influenced by mountain waves. Oscillations in measured wind speeds agree well with WRF simulations in timing and magnitude.We conclude that mountain waves can impact wind turbine and wind farm power output and, therefore, should be considered in complex terrain when designing, building, and forecasting for wind farms.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number45
Pages (from-to)45-60
Number of pages16
JournalWind Energy Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
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NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5000-76765


  • complex terrain
  • mountain waves
  • wind power
  • WRF


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