Siting of Wind Farms: Basic Aspects

When searching the internet for the definition of the word “layout” I came across following:

Layout in word processing and desktop publishing refers to the arrangement of text and graphics. The layout of a document can determine which points are emphasised and whether the document is aesthetically pleasing. While no computer program can substitute for a professional layout artist, a powerful desktop publishing tool can make it easier to lay out professional looking documents (source:

In principle the same is valid for wind farm planning: The term layout in wind industry is used for choosing optimal locations for wind turbines. Tools like flow models help to identify the best positions, but cannot replace the engineer making the final decision by balancing interests.

So what is that engineering experience, what factors influence the decision?

Jessica Rautenstrauch, wind energy consultant from
Anemos, Germany, at work.
© Paul Langrock (

Wind resource

The wind resource is the most obvious factor to concentrate on when choosing a wind turbine location. We have a wide range of options to determine the wind resource of the site. The quality of the tools varies significantly and so does their price.

Common sense is a good starting point. Nature itself helps to guide us to suitable sites. Flagging of trees – permanent flagging and not the temporary bending in the wind – shows us the prevailing wind direction and is a good indicator for the strength of the wind.

However because of the uncertainty involved, using common sense as the only tool is of course insufficient. For any bankable estimate of the energy yield on-site wind speed measurements are required. The number of measurement masts required for a specific site depends next to the size of the project mainly on the complexity of the terrain. The measurement height should be minimum 2/3 of the expected future hub height. An increase in measurement height beyond this leads to a reduction of the uncertainty in the energy estimate. The measurement period must be one year or more to avoid any seasonal bias. Since the wind speed varies also inter-annually typically up to +/-12% a long-term correction is highly recommended.

The measured wind regime is extrapolated across the site to derive a resource map of the site using different flow models /4, 5/. A wind map like the one in Graph 1 can then be used to identify the windiest locations.

However additionally technical constraints should be taken into account when developing a layout /3/. A number of site specific wind load parameters can be extracted from the wind speed measurement. They are used to optimize the technical suitability of the chosen layout and the wind turbine type for the site specific wind regime.

Graph 1: Example Wind Resource Map. The colours denote the energy content of the wind, red high and blue low energy content.

Technical restrictions

Wind turbines are designed for specific conditions. During the construction and design phase assumptions are made about the wind climate that the wind turbines will be exposed to. In rough terms: For very complex sites with high wind speeds “heavy-duty” versions of wind turbines are available, which are sturdier but also more costly. Low wind speed sites in flat terrain do not put so high demands on the on the wind turbine structure, hence the construction can be more light-weight and hence cheaper. The different turbines have been classified by the IEC, class 1 being the highest wind speed class. The following table is a simplified summary of the IEC classification /1/.

Vave (m/s) annual average wind speed at hub height 10 8.5 7.5 5
Vref (m/s) 50-year maximum 10-minute wind speed 50 42.5 37.5 30

Table 1: IEC classes

But not only the wind speed but also other parameters play a role and have to be checked, when developing a layout for a specific turbine.

One of the most important parameters is the turbulence intensity. Turbulence intensity quantifies how much the wind varies typically within 10 minutes. Because the fatigue loads of a number of major components in a wind turbine are mainly caused by turbulence, the knowledge of how turbulent a site is of crucial importance.

We have to distinguish between two different sources of turbulence. Turbulence is generated by terrain features – which is referred to as ambient turbulence intensity - as well as by neighbouring wind turbines – which referred to as induced turbulence (Figure 1). Sources of ambient turbulence are for example forests, hills, cliffs or thermal effects. Thus ambient turbulence can be reduced by avoiding critical terrain features. But the wake-induced turbulence has far more impact than the ambient turbulence intensity /2/. Decreasing the spacing increases the turbulence induced by the wakes of neighbouring wind turbines meaning that there are limits to how close you can space the turbines. As a general rule the distance between wind turbines in prevailing wind direction should be a minimum of the equivalent of five rotor diameters. The spacing inside a row perpendicular to the main wind direction should be a minimum of three rotor diameters.

Figure 1: Shadowing in wind farm

If a layout is too close the resulting fatigue loads might be too high. In order to then ensure the lifetime of the main components wind sector management might have to be applied, meaning that some wind turbines might have to be switched off when they are operating in the wake of the neighbouring wind turbine.

Another parameter which has to be checked when developing a layout is the flow inclination, velocity tilt or in-flow angle. When wind turbines are to be placed on steep slopes or cliffs the wind might hit the rotor not perpendicular but at an angle. This angle is related to the terrain slope. With increasing height above ground level the effect of the terrain slope is normally reduced such that the terrain slope is only of indicative use to estimate the velocity tilt. A large in-flow angle will not only reduce the energy production but will also lead to an increased level of fatigue of some of the mayor components.

Figure 2: Distorted wind profile at steep slope (left) and behind a forest (right)

Furthermore a steep slope might cause a negative gradient across some parts of the rotor (Figure 2).

Normally the wind speed increases with increasing height. In flat terrain the wind speed increases logarithmically with height. In complex terrain the wind profile is not a simple increase and additionally a separation of the flow might occur, leading to heavily increased turbulence. The resulting wind speed gradients across the rotor lead to high fatigue loads particularly on the yaw system.

Obstacles like forest can have a similar effect on the wind profile and should be thus avoided.

Planning constraints

Next to the wind resource and technical considerations a good layout should also take planning constraints into account. The visual impact is course the most obvious. A layout that follows the shape of the terrain rather than straight rows of wind turbines appears to be less intrusive. Noise is another important parameter to take into account. Next to noise also the impact due to flicker at the nearest inhabited houses should be estimated. The accepted levels vary from country to country.

Electro-magnetic interference can cause problems. Hence placing wind turbines in a transmission corridor should be avoided.

Some areas on site might have to be excluded from development due to other factors related to fauna, flora and archaeology.

Jessica Rautenstrauch, wind energy consultant
from Anemos, Germany, at work.
© Paul Langrock (


A large number of parameters have to be taken into account when developing a layout. Some work can be done using tools, but in the end the balance between financial, technical and planning constraints can be best done by an experiences engineer.


Wiebke Langreder
Suzlon Energy: