STEM and Soft Skills

STEM & Soft Skills 4/7: Wind Farms

Ian Couchman
August 10, 2020

Wind turbines are team players.

Modern wind turbines are majestic giants. Some are over 200 metres in diameter and capable of generating in excess of 14 megawatts.  Take one moment to contemplate that. That's about twice the length of a football pitch. Spinning. And enough energy to supply 16000 homes annually. A far cry from the plastic spinners found on sandcastles nationwide!

You'll also have noticed that they aren't just installed in isolation. An offshore wind farm can have more than 100 turbines installed together in a farm. But they don't simply operate as a collection of individual units; they are forced to interact by the fact that they are all attempting to capture energy from the same resource i.e. the wind.

Picture a row of wind turbines and the wind passing along the row. The first turbine sees high, slowly changing wind. As this first machine extracts energy, it slows the wind down and makes it more turbulent -a region of flow referred to as a turbine's wake. Turbines further along the row in this wake then have a much harder job. The lower wind speed driving them means they generate less power. The increased fluctuations in the wind mean they are damaged more by doing so.

More recently, smarter wind farms have been designed. Turbines towards the front of the array are asked to produce less power so as to leave a higher, smoother inflow for their counterparts downstream. The end result: no change to total park power but less damage to the turbines towards the back.

A win-win driven by thinking about the big picture.

We see teams everywhere we look. Sports clubs, school projects, orchestras, and movie casts. And our eyes are often drawn to the superstar. The goal scorer. The lead singer. The starring actor. Maybe sometimes we are even that person.

But take a second to think. The top goal scorer doesn't always come from the team who wins the league. Is the superstar being the 'front row turbine'? Or are their behaviours actually driving the ability of others to perform?

So next time you find yourself in a team, visualise the offshore wind farm. What is the effect of your wake and who feels it? And remember if you feel like you are at the back, things will be very different when the wind direction changes.

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Questions for kids


Think of the different teams you are in or that you follow. Are there any 'front row turbines'? If so, how might they change their behaviour to help the team? For instance, in football, how important is a midfield engine like Paul Pogba vs a goal scoring machine like Lionel Messi?


How does it feel to NOT be a 'front row turbine'? How would you like to be treated in that instance? How important is it to truly understand the challenges other people face? Are you ever resentful of a school friend who gets all the glory?


How would you describe a team where everything is working together? What mindsets do they have? Talk about the confidence people get from achieving and contributing. If the team achieves the same outcome with one person doing the high profile tasks, why should you change?

Let's start some great conversations with our kids and check out the App for lots more ideas!

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Written by
Ian Couchman

Ian is a dad of 2 kids and leads a team of engineers delivering technical services to the renewable energy sectors. He is passionate about green energy, STEM education, and soft skills alike, and will be guest posting for KidCoach to bring us his very own Summer Challenge!

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