2006), and local governments often enact noise ordinances. Standards of acceptability need to be understood in the context of ambient (background) noise resulting from all other nearby and distant sources.

Shadow Flicker

As the blades of a wind turbine rotate in sunny conditions, they cast moving shadows on the ground resulting in alternating changes in light intensity. This phenomenon is termed shadow flicker. Shadow flicker is different from a related strobe-like phenomenon that is caused by intermittent chopping of the sunlight behind the rotating blades. Shadow flicker intensity is defined as the difference or variation in brightness at a given location in the presence and absence of a shadow. Shadow flicker can be a nuisance to nearby humans, and its effects need to be considered during the design of a wind-energy project.

In the United States, shadow flicker has not been identified as causing even a mild annoyance. In Northern Europe, on the other hand, because of the higher latitude and the lower angle of the sun, especially in winter, shadow flicker can be a problem of concern.


Shadow flicker is a function of several factors, including the location of people relative to the turbine, the wind speed and direction, the diurnal variation of sunlight, the geographic latitude of the location, the local topography, and the presence of any obstructions (Nielsen 2003). Shadow flicker is not important at distant sites (for example, greater than 1,000 feet from a turbine) except during the morning and evening when shadows are long. However, sunlight intensity is also lower during the morning and evening; this tends to reduce the effects of shadows and shadow flicker. The speed of shadow flicker increases with wind-turbine rotor speed.

Shadow flicker may be analytically modeled, and several software packages are commercially available for this purpose (e.g., WindPro and GH WindFarmer). An online tool for simple shadow calculations for flat topography is also available (DWEA 2003b). These software packages generally provide conservative results as they typically ignore the numerous influencing factors listed above and only consider a worst-case scenario (i.e., no shadow or full shadow). Inputs to a shadow-flicker model in WindPro, for example, include a description of the turbine and site, the topography, the joint wind speed and wind direction distribution, and an average or distribution of sunshine hours. Typical output results include the number of shadow-hours per year; these are often represented by iso-lines or contours of equal annual shadow-hours on a topographical map. Daily and

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement