Researchers at the University of Delaware have found that staggering and spacing out turbines in an offshore wind farm can improve performance by as much as 33%.

The researchers used an existing offshore wind farm near Sweden as the basis for their study. They compared the existing tightly packed, grid-like layout to six alternative configurations. In some, they kept the turbines in neat rows but spaced them farther apart. In others, they shifted the alignment of every other row, similar to how rows of theatre seats are staggered to improve the views of people further back.

In computer simulations, the team took into account the eddies that wind turbines create downwind as their blades spin and how that air movement would impact surrounding turbines.

They found that the most efficient arrangement was a combination of two approaches. By both spacing the turbines farther apart and staggering the rows, the improved layout would decrease losses caused by eddies and improve overall performance by a third.

The optimal configuration had the rows oriented to face the prevailing wind direction. Most locations, however, have more than one dominant direction from where wind blows throughout the year. So, the optimal configuration for a season may not be optimal in another season, when the prevailing wind changes direction and intensity.