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Integrating Real-Time Optical Sensors into Wind Turbines to Increase Their Efficiency

Company Name: Micron Optics, Inc.
Program Office: Wind
Location: Atlanta, GA
Award Amount ($): $300,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Sandia National Laboratories


Wind turbine operations, including the pitch and direction of the turbines themselves, are routinely fine-tuned to maximize power production in the face of variable wind speed as well as the many ways wind movement changes as it moves through an array of turbines. Wind power control devices need to be accurate, reliable and cost-efficient to effectively predict the complex flow at each turbine site. Micron Optics has been working for more than a decade to develop a robust method for using the entire wind turbine rotor as a sensor by using embedded fiber optic instruments.

As part of this project, Sandia National Laboratories will assist Micron Optics with product testing and validation for its method. This work will demonstrate the potential benefit of using the rotor as a sensor. If successful, Micron Optics will use this work to surmount market barriers for integrating fiber optic systems into commercial wind turbines.


Micron Optics is an established leader in innovative optical components and laser-based equipment that improves the quality of optical measurements, allowing the sensing, imaging and telecommunications industries to make many kinds of critical measurements. Micron Optics' core technology — called the fiber Fabry-Perot tunable filter — was instrumental in the development of so-called wavelength-division multiplexing fiber optic communication systems, which greatly expanded the amount of information that could be transferred across fiber optic lines. Since then, the company has developed many complementary technologies and products originating from its tunable filter technologies, and working with Sandia staff and facilities could lead to advantageous applications in the renewable energy industry. In particular, integrated optical sensors in wind turbines have been used extensively to validate new blade designs and manufacturing processes. This work can further extend the utility of those efforts by bringing real-time optical measurements into the field of operating wind power generation farms, helping increase operational efficiency and extending the life cycle of many critical turbine components.


Increasing the efficiency of wind turbines can make wind increasingly cost-competitive with other energy sources, including fossil fuel energy and utility-scale solar. In addition, many easy-to-access, high-energy wind sites already have turbines on site, so more efficient turbine designs and operations will allow more widespread use of cost-effective turbine technology. Wind turbine manufacturing and operations are also a source of domestic job growth.

Wind energy operations are emissions-free and electricity generation from wind is a major source of reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Utilities are increasingly relying on wind to meet environmental goals, including ones related to climate change.

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