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Wind Turbines are Noisier at Night

by Nomad Tue May 9th, 2006 at 11:26:45 AM EST

Or at least, that's what Frits van den Berg concludes from his PhD study on wind turbines in the windfarm in Rhede, Gemany, just across the Dutch border. He will be defending his thesis on 12 May at the University of Groningen.

Translated from the press release (in Dutch):

It is surprising how little windfarm owners know about their "raw material", wind, opines Frits van den Berg. His measurements from, among others, the windfarm in Rhede show that during the night wind can be virtually absent at ground levels while there is a strong wind at greater height. During the day, this effect is not present. Because of this (known metrological effect) wind turbines make more noise during the night than during the day. Windfarm owners have long denied this or played the effect down. Van den Berg: "They base their expected production numbers on the mean wind velocity at a height of about ten meters through the entire year. Yet many wind turbines are nowadays much higher with heights up to eighty meters. At that height, wind can be considerably stronger while at the ground there is less than a breath. Windfarm owners should be able to verify this for themselves: at night the more modern, higher turbines render more energy than during the day."

Although Van den Berg opines further in the piece he is not against the wind industry, he argues for a better acknowledgement of this recurring complaint concerning wind turbine noise and cautions that continuing to evade this topic will risk the wind industry getting a bad rep. With a little digging I found a PDF of Van den Berg's work in English, here.

It's on a site against windfarms, so they probably appreciate the hits, even when I would like to query for further debate and thoughts on this topic to advance wind industry further...

Thanks for the info. Two quick notes:

  • this is a 2003 paper about a 2001 wind farm. A lot pf progress has been made on the noise front since then;
  • the paper only talks about relative increases in noise compared to predictions, and not about absolute levels. I'm pretty sure there's a reason for that...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 9th, 2006 at 11:54:52 AM EST
They might like the hits, until they get spammed...oh well...

Anyway, never thought of this until you brought it up...but it does tend to be windier at night...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Tue May 9th, 2006 at 02:49:04 PM EST
Jerome, it must be true, you are in love with windmills :) This is just a friendly and believe me, totally devoid of sarcasm comment to the fact that you could not help putting Nomad's points into perspective.
I am not as astute as whataboutbob, but yes, more wind gets into turbines when the weather is more windy.. :-)
Lucky you to be so fond of your job, not every one of us has that chance.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Tue May 9th, 2006 at 02:54:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
that's odd;  I have slept -- or tried to -- w/in a few blocks of a regional nat gas fired power plant for several nights, and I would happily have traded any amount of wind farm noise (which I have also heard at close range) for the racket that thing made, even at lower output during lower night-time demand.  I would also have traded any amt of wind farm noise for and end to the filth which -- despite scrubbers -- that plant dumped on every boat in the marina.  dock fees there (Moss Landing CA) included "free" twice-monthly hosedowns by marina staff to compensate for the smuts deposited by the plant, yet another externalised cost (and waste of potable water).  cover canvas rotted away faster than I had ever known it to do, possibly by some interaction of ash from the plant, rain and fog moisture, and UV.

complaints about wind turbine noise just seem absurd to me.  masses of people are expected meekly to accept freeway noise, airport noise, jet ski noise, car alarms, car boomboom stereos at all hours, aircraft shattering the silence of even the most remote valleys on Earth;  but then we have all kinds of upset over the relatively peaceful continuo of the big blades turning and the bearings grinding?  I used to visit the wind farm on S Point HI expressly to listen to its eerie song, and would happily have pitched a tent and camped among the towers :-)

I suspect (w/o rigorous demographic research) that one fundamental issue here is that wealthy whiteflightistas who profit from industrialism, yet themselves remove to "the country" to escape its costs (i.e. fob them off onto lesser beings) get really upset when any cost or impact of their energy-hog lifestyle actually comes within eye or ear shot, i.e. is no longer "externalised" (read: relocated).

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 9th, 2006 at 04:35:34 PM EST
Seriously, you are. I was 12 when I was be swopped from a practically noise-free environment to noise-abundant environment, the difference between the rural north of the Netherlands and living underneath the skyline of Amsterdam.

I'll sleep about this and will return with a vengeance tomorrow. Don't fret, I won't be hostile. Just lengthy.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Tue May 9th, 2006 at 05:06:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well, maybe the S Pt wind farm was unusually quiet.  or maybe the Moss Landing plant is unusually noisy.  all I know is what my own ears have heard... so I'll be interested if you have something quantitative...  I assume there will be graphs, or at least tables?

J Adams -- for whose work I have a more than a little regard -- wrote about noise perception as coloured by belief and emotion, i.e. there are people who find the noise of Concorde taking off to be a "good" noise and others who would flee the area immediately.  I find the farmyard noises of chickens, goats, etc. far less irritating than the squeal of tyres and brakes, honking of horns, sirens etc. that urban dwellers become acclimatised to.  I fall asleep easily on a train, lulled by the rhythmic tackatacka of the rails, but cannot sleep on airplanes.  most people like the mutter and growl of the sea in the background, but some are made uneasy by it.  the singing of wind in the rigging sets some people's teeth on edge, others fall asleep to it like babies to a lullaby.  so far I haven't heard a wind farm I didn't like, but my sample is statistically meaningless :-)

my point I suppose is that db measures the intensity of sounds but not the annoyingness of same which can be highly subjective and coloured by ideas of status, choice, imposition, familiarity, etc.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 9th, 2006 at 05:36:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, I have one such perfect example!

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue May 9th, 2006 at 10:58:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well Koch's "Oxbow Group" seems to be centred in the extractive minerals (mining) industry.  Wonder if he has a line on some exploitable uranium mines.  Certainly his outfit mines fluorspar which is used in the enrichment process... (just google for Kock and Oxbow and snoop around a bit).

OTOH his outfit also produces materials for alloying steel, moly for lubrication etc., so I'd think he could make some bucks selling to wind farms.  So it may not be conflict of interest so much as plain old NIMSLism (Not In My Sight Line).

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 9th, 2006 at 11:45:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was implying NIMBYism, yes. While on the subject, though, now that the price for wind power is about on par with coal we'll be seeing more misinformation on wind.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 12:33:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know I've quoted it before but I'm constantly reminded of the old Jules Feiffer cartoon.  Behind a big desk sits the cartoon CEO, corpulent and truculent in his suit and tie.  Over his head float talk balloons which go something like this (from memory)...

Oil?  We own the wells.

Coal?  We own the coal mines.

Nuclear?  We own the uranium mines.

Solar power?

[blank frame, i.e. "pause"...]

Solar power is not feasible.

Perhaps it is the ultimate argument in favour of pv, solar stirling, and wind/tidal power.  No one owns the sun, the wind, the coriolis force, the moon... yet.  After watching the transnational in Bolivia try to impose penalties for citizens collecting rainwater to drink, how can one possibly say there is any theft of the commons the Enclosers will not assert or attempt?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 03:03:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've assumed for a while (I am sure there is research on this somewhere which I personally have not looked for) that there is a similar dynamic surrounding the reason for tobacco being legal while weed is not. Tobacco takes a fair amount of labor and energy to grow and thus requires a certain level of public and private capital/bureaucracy to produce. Weed (heh) will grow almost anywhere on its own, and thus requires essential no bureaucracy or money behind it. The resulting clout of the bureaucracy surrounding tobacco has two goals -  elimination of competing products and active resistance to any government policy that harms the financial interests of tobacco farmers.

I worry about something similar with wind and solar. If the energy crisis is slow moving, I can envision people with long term investments (and deep connections in the government) in fossil fuel or bio fuel power plants suing to prevent wind energy providers from gaining access to the market on the basis that they can't otherwise compete.

On top of that, governments have to at some level have fear of "empowering" technologies like solar and wind. If citizens can provide their own power, there is one less aspect of daily life that the government needs to be directly involved in.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 10:25:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I should've reversed tactics and have written this reply off the cuff instead of waiting for the opportunity to sit, think, type - since that moment never comes.

There are two themes I want to highlight in reply to your post. One is cultural, the other has to do with the psychological impact of what you call noise perception, and is more personally shaped.

To begin with the latter, as I briefly commented above, I was 12 when I moved from the farm house in Drenthe, municipality Noordenveld (North-field). Although at the historic "centre" of the village and located beside a farm, I came only to appreciate the silence after moving into the village located some 15 kilometres south of Amsterdam, sandwiched between the A2 highway (at a mile distance to the west) and the busies railway of the country between Amsterdam and Utrecht (at a mile distance to the east, tracks currently being doubled) and right underneath the landing route of the more heavy transport planes bound for Schiphol Airport. It took me at least half a year when trying to fall asleep adjusting to those constant noises and the fact that at eight o'clock in the evening once every ten minutes a car would pass through the street.

When I moved back for a couple of weeks to Drenthe for sleep-overs and such, the silence struck me, it was almost balmy. On a further personal note, only a few years back, I realised that I am even unconsciously seeking for places blessed with silence - those are the actual places where I feel most completely at ease and at comfort with my surroundings. So, from a personal perspective, I'd vehemently argue that those people not exposed to background noise produced by our western society since their childhood days have a perfect argument to complain about noise levels practically imposed onto them. Those people do not meekly accept decibel increase: they were never born into a world where background ruckus is so "normal" that we apparently should take it for granted. I say: yeah to them.

I really fail to see the argument that because wind farms are environmentally friendly and sustain a more durable life-style the downside element should simply be taken for granted. That doesn't fly with me at all. We object to horizon pollution from greenhouses or landscape pollution from electricity masts as well. Why should noise emissions from wind farms not be considered a legitimate complaint if it truly bothers people? (I leave out the question whether it would truly bother people and is not just NIMBY in disguise.)

We're also broaching the cultural clash with this. Except perhaps for the city Groningen, the north of the Netherlands has to this very day been considered the backwash by the industrialized west, the Randstad. You will find very little "whiteflightistas" in the north, I'm afraid. Those are all living around the hubs of the Randstad, outside the brick village centres destined for the plebs.

The pervasive opinion of the people there remains that the north needs to do the job without support from The Hague, as The Hague is perpetually fixated on the economic engine of the Netherlands - something that has historical roots, even starting from the rise of Amsterdam and the province of Holland in the 16th century. In the 1950s, there has been a half-hearted attempt to push public services up into the north, but after rounds of privatisations the companies are returning back to the Randstad and unemployment is back on the rise. That's one.

The other, extremely vexing attitude of The Hague is that they've been using the northern provinces as dumping grounds from the overspill of the Randstad. Regarded on population density, immigration centres are heavily tilted towards the more rural provinces (including Zeeland in the south). Initiatives to connect the northern area with the Randstad with a smooth rail connection have been going on since the seventies and have never fledged. Today, it will take you more than two hours by train from Utrecht to Groningen (and it will get worse). Driving by car is now already faster. Perhaps anticipating on the failure of the far too costly Betuweroute, the government decided this year to scrap plans for an innovative mono-rail connection from Utrecht to Groningen. When there were plans this year for drug addicts from the big cities, which were known to constantly fall back into hard-drug use to be relocated to "container camps" projected in Drenthe and Groningen, people really had enough and banged their fists. The plan is now "on hold" (not withdrawn, as far as I know).

Now, when The Hague in all its enthusiasm dumps windfarms all across the north, by the argument for sustainable development yet in the meantime using the surplus for the benefit of the Randstad, while windfarm development in the Randstad moves off-shore to avoid all those little vexes as noise emission and horizon pollution... Let me just say that does not go well over there. And I find they are entirely in their right to object to thinly veiled projects intended for the well-being for the entire country but mostly for the Randstad. Everyone's equal, but some are more equal than others in The Hague.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 08:42:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
that's a terrific and very enlightening response for which I thank you very much.  the thread had already sunk below the horizon before I got back to it.  gotta learn to use that monitoring feature...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 07:12:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Most of the presentations from the EWEA (European Wind Energy association)'s big annual conference/exhibition can be found for free at this link, which has a nice search engine:


Lots of technical stuff.

A basic search on "noise":

http://www.ewec2006proceedings.info/index2.php?searchin=0&what=3&searchtext=noise&Submit =Search&page=searchresult

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 9th, 2006 at 06:24:48 PM EST
See also this site from the Canadian government: http://www.retscreen.net/ang/g_win.php

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 9th, 2006 at 06:25:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting site, especially that you can already view most of the presentations still to be held. I briefly scanned through those publications your basic search on noise brought up and just would add one sour comment, playing Van den Berg's advocate: even when noise is discussed (and it is not necessarily always directed at environment noise) it seems a small part of the whole research package. The royal exception here is the pdf from Prospathopoulos (who also uses Van den Berg's work as a reference).

The question I'm left with after scanning through Prospathopoulos: in what time windows are these noise immision measurements done? Is it a 24 hours long observation period? The same 2 hours for several days? Is there a standard for it? As this seems to be a meta-analysis for the purpose of testing a noise emission model, it may not have been of priority for the aim of the research, but odd (to me) nevertheless...

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 05:36:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Coal trains are noisy, especially when there are a couple of level crossings in town that require the whistles to be blown, 24 hours a day. For about the 32 coal trains a day that pass through here, that's a lot of whistles.

Meanwhile, the wind farms in the Great American Desert are out in the middle of nowhere; they could sound like jet engines and nobody would care.


by asdf on Tue May 9th, 2006 at 08:33:15 PM EST
Actually, just to not mislead you, the trains themselves are not all that noisy. It's a gradual downhill grade (going South) and the trains are really just coasting, so except for the whine of the dynamic brakes and a bit of flange squeal, you can hardly hear them...
by asdf on Tue May 9th, 2006 at 08:34:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Record it and sell it to Dodo as a lullaby!
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 03:04:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If there were still giant herds around...

A problem for Europe, but for the population dense Netherlands especially, is that there's no immediate equivalent of the Great Plains to stash stretches of windfarms. We have the Veluwe, but it so happens it's the nation's biggest nature reserve and I don't know about the degree of wind it gets.

Off-shore seems the first best alternative (to me) but even there are limitations to how much windfarms can be developed. If we want to develop on-shore farming - which I do support but to a certain limit of windfarm density and landscape toll - and not want to risk a backlash of public sentiment, acknowledgement of and R&D on noise emissions seem a proper future strategy for the wind crowd.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 05:49:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A problem for Europe [...] is that there's no immediate equivalent of the Great Plains to stash stretches of windfarms

How about that great plain north of the alps, and north north-east of the Carpathians? (wiki)
Then again, maybe you're right and there isn't a lot of wind potential...?

You're right: there is more wind in the US central plain.


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 06:04:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...with a map of population density, where I suspect (but am not certain!) that the Great Plains have a far lower population spread than what we have in Europe - although Ukraine may be on the same par, or be even lower.

Personally, wind potential seems to me the bottleneck, though. Although from your map, half of the Netherlands (including the Veluwe) could be covered in wind farms and generate a large output.

BTW, I am puzzled about these pictures. I don't understand where the big variation comes from at certain limited locations in Europe where the wind potential suddenly appears to spike... I don't understand how such differences can be so local.

Also, did you see the figure from Wikipedia for wind power within the USA? There are some remarkable differences.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 09:16:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect (but am not certain!) that the Great Plains have a far lower population spread than what we have in Europe

Actually, no: the settlement structure owes much to the transcontinental railroad land grants, which resulted in isolated farms or small villages at meeting edges of triangular farms or similar. That means that while in The Netherlands or North Germany, you'll find a village of 1000 souls every two kilometres, in the Great Plains, expect the same for farms with 5 souls. (I'm not sure how much the rural bankrupcy waves reduced this, though.)

Personally, wind potential seems to me the bottleneck

See my comment to Migeru.

I don't understand how such differences can be so local.


There are some remarkable differences.

Eh, some of the differences between wind maps are due to sampling and interpolation problems similar to what you brought up in the Hockeystick diary. But the main difference here is that your map is an old (1980/1985) for wind measurements 10 m high, Migeru's is for such at 80 m high.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 09:34:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think Nomad meant settlement density, not wind potential. But it's true that while Europe's wind potential was (last I looked=years ago) put at just about the equivalent of current electricity consumption, the USA's is close to an order of magnitude bigger than consumption.

Much of Europe's potential would be off-shore in the shallow seas. On the other hand, some of those sub-6-m/s regions are full of wind turbines (f.e. near Vienna, Northeastern Germany, parts of Spain and Italy), the 5.5-5.9 band and corresponding regions could now be considered a reasonable potential, unlike a few years ago.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 09:22:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Spain is yellow on the map so it looks off-limits like the alps, but it's actually a pretty flat plateau 600m above sea level.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 09:34:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
acknowledgement of and R&D on noise emissions seem a proper future strategy for the wind crowd.

I agree on that - and, as Jérôme implied, too, it is actually done by the industry. (I am dismayed that fellow wind crowders are a bit over-dismissive of the issue.) I note that the wind turbine model used in the Rheyde wind farm has been through a major upgrade, with new blades whose tips (a main source of noise) now reseble modern aircraft wing tips.

However, in this farm's specific case, it should be noted that noise complaints came in the framework of what looks like a longer-running 'neighbor debate', the Dutch village having protested against the German farm beyond its jurisdiction with all kinds of arguments. I wonder if you can dig us up some recent articles from ther local (Dutch) press, whether and in what way this is still an issue there.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 09:04:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is is the moon. It has an effect in the sea levels which ceates an influx/exflux of ionic particles which elevate the number of protozoos in the water drops of the atmosphere which then go on to crash to the windmill in higher numbers producing the characteristic, criticric criticric.

A simple sclaing analysis shows that I am right...

so now we can discuss the level of noise in any street of Barcelona due to cars... I know for certain that if the car industry does not deal directly with this issue they will be heavily hit and get a bad reputation. I think the car industry has to entertain the idea of self-dismentle the whole business to show willingness to face the problem of noise in the cities...forbidding cars if necessary.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 03:53:49 AM EST
Don't be bitter, kcurie... I will address this point in my more lenthy reply to DeAnadner (it will be there), too, but it has to do with the concept of noise perception.

Imagine a Barclona without cars....... (it's a feat to do thi, I know, but can you imagine the pleasantness of this?).... ...then imagine..... a Barcelona without cars but with thousands and thousands of wind turbines on rooftops and the Sagrada Familia, all swooshing their way with a noise on a par to car noise...

Why don't we promote silent car regulations?

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 09:36:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nomad.. you do not know me...??? he hehehe it was a snark...

je je jejejejejee

Well and it also showed I care more about the wind industry than the car industry :)

A pleasure.....

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 12:01:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have troubles identifying snarks amongst this witty crowd, as afew can attest, which is why afew and I will both be eating chocolate pie one happy day. Perhaps we two should start a similar scheme, but then with gazpacho... (I've had the best gazpacho so far in Barcelona. I wouldn't mind adding an extra reason to return there!)
by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 04:44:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
i think one of the reasons cars are so noisy is to let pedestrians know they're coming and to get out of the way!

have you ever had one of those mega quiet 750cc motorbikes silently purr right up to you from behind...?


i dare say windmills in the future will be quieter, for now just turn up yer windpowered music system!

and breathe that clean air

and know that your descendents  will inherit a liveable planet

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed May 10th, 2006 at 05:42:50 PM EST

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