Sound from Wind Turbines
Noise is a Minor Problem Today
It is interesting to note that the sound emission levels for all new Danish turbine designs tend to cluster around the same values. This seems to indicate that the gains due to new designs of e.g. quieter rotor blade tips are spent in slightly increasing the tip speed (the wind speed measured at the tip of the rotor blade), and thus increasing the energy output from the machines.
In the guided tour section on Wind Turbine Design we have explained how turbines today are engineered to reduce sound emissions.
It thus appears that noise is not a major problem for the industry, given the distance to the closest neighbours (usually a minimum distance of about 7 rotor diameters or 300 m = 1000 ft. is observed).
The concepts of sound perception and measurement are not widely known in the public, but they are fairly easy to understand, once you get to grips with it. You can actually do the calculations yourself in a moment.
Planning Wind Turbine Installation in Regard to Sound
Wind Turbine Sound Map Fortunately, it is usually reasonably easy to predict the sound effect from wind turbines in advance. On one of the following pages you may even try for yourself, using the Sound Map Calculator , which was used to draw the picture.
Each square measures 43 by 43 metres, corresponding to one rotor diameter. The bright red areas are the areas with high sound intensity, above 55 dB(A). The dashed areas indicate areas with sound levels above 45 dB(A), which will normally not be used for housing etc. (We get to the explanation of the sound level and dB(A) in a moment).
As you can see, the zone affected by sound extends only a few rotor diameters' distance from the machine.
Background Noise: Masking Noise Drowns out Turbine Noise
No landscape is ever completely quiet. Birds and human activities emit sound, and at winds speeds around 4-7 m/s and up the noise from the wind in leaves, shrubs, trees, masts etc. will gradually mask (drown out) any potential sound from e.g. wind turbines.
This makes it extremely difficult to measure sound from wind turbines accurately. At wind speeds around 8 m/s and above, it generally becomes a quite abstruse issue to discuss sound emissions from modern wind turbines, since background noise will generally mask any turbine noise completely.
The Influence of the Surroundings on Sound Propagation
Sound reflection or absorption from terrain and building surfaces may make the sound picture different in different locations. Generally, very little sound is heard upwind of wind turbines. The wind rose is therefore important to chart the potential dispersion of sound in different directions.
Human Perception of Sound and Noise
Most people find it pleasant listen to the sound of waves at the seashore, and quite a few of us are annoyed with the noise from the neighbour's radio, even though the actual sound level may be far lower.
Apart from the question of your neighbour's taste in music, there is obviously a difference in terms of information content. Sea waves emit random "white" noise, while you neighbour's radio has some systematic content which your brain cannot avoid discerning and analysing. If you generally dislike your neighbour you will no doubt be even more annoyed with the noise. Sound experts for lack of a better definition define "noise" as "unwanted sound".
Since the distinction between noise and sound is a highly psychological phenomenon, it is not easy to make a simple and universally satisfactory modelling of sound phenomena. In fact, a recent study done by the Danish research institute DK Teknik seems to indicate that people's perception of noise from wind turbines is governed more by their attitude to the source of the noise, rather than the actual noise itself.
© Copyright 1997-2003 Danish Wind Industry Association
Updated 10 May 2003
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