Wind Turbine Blades: Modifications to Reduce Aerodynamic Noise; Evaluating the Social Factors that Impact the Implementation of Wind Turbines in the U.S.

Anderson, Megan, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Elliott, Travis, EN-STS Dept, University of Virginia
Momot, Michael, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia

Both the technical project and STS research explore the sociotechnical factors that impact the growth of wind power within the modern energy sector. The technical project addresses a key issue in the adoption of wind turbines: aerodynamic noise. With recent studies that link the noise to adverse health effects, the project examines wind turbine design to remedy this undesired side effect. The STS analysis of the current role of wind turbines in American industry offers further insight into the social limitations to future advancement.

More specifically, the technical project focuses on the aerodynamics of the rotor blades, studying three separate designs that each target one specific source of noise. The leading edge, wing tip, and trailing edge are all primary contributors to the characteristic swishing sound associated with most of the complaints about nearby turbines. Local outcry has been supported by reports of sleep disturbance, headaches, and nausea coined “wind turbine syndrome.” Although government and industry have disputed these claims in the past, more recent evidence supporting the contrary makes it a controversial issue. Moreover, the technical work aims to lay the foundation for research into sound mitigation modifications that ultimately eradicate any negative health impacts.

While the technical project tackles a mechanical obstacle to wind turbine development, the STS research goes further to consider the political, economic, and social limitations to its growth. Using the Social Construction of Technology framework, it considers the historical context of wind power in the United States to derive its impact on public perception. This background supports the following analysis of legislation and corporate adoption to determine its impact on the functionality of wind turbines within the modern utility structure. Furthermore, the STS research offers a more complete understanding of the limitations faced by wind turbines, rooting the technical work in its application to the broader sociotechnical issue.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Wind Power, Wind Turbines, Rotors, Renewable Energy, Noise, Aerodynamics

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Dr. Michael Momot
STS Advisor: S. Travis Elliott
Technical Team Members: Nathan Jacobson, Levi Otis, Caleb Owen, Justin Smith

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