DOE Throws Money Behind Larger Wind Turbines

The US Energy Department (DOE) is investing in the development of wind turbine blades longer than 60 meters.
Published: Thu 09 Apr 2015

The US Department of Energy is working on a “Wind Vision” study, that shows how to double wind energy production by the end of this decade. That means wind could be responsible for 10% of the country’s electricity supply in 2020. By 2030, that figure could reach 20% and by 2050 35%, wind could be America’s biggest source of electricity.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the US Energy Department (DOE) is investing $1.8 million in research and development of technological innovations to improve the manufacturing, transportation, and assembly of wind turbine blades longer than 60m which are believed to harness even more wind power than their smaller counterparts.

More power captured by larger turbine blades

Development of larger turbine blades will help capture more power from wind resources, particularly in the Southeast, and increase the efficiency of wind energy systems. Installation of larger blades on wind turbines with taller hub heights of at least 120m will help facilitate deployment of the next generation of multi-megawatt wind turbines, according to DOE.

Solutions may modular, segmented or site-fabricated blade technologies. Resulting designs and associated manufacturing, logistics and installation requirements may be applicable to both land-based and offshore wind plants.

In December 2014, DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory released maps illustrating the potential for new wind energy resources that developers could unlock using next-generation turbine technologies.

These taller turbines accompanied by longer blades have the potential to harness wind power resources from more than one million additional square miles of the US-this is approximately three times the amount of land that was accessible with turbine technology in 2008.

This effort to develop larger blades complements DOE’s earlier award to two companies that are using innovative construction and installation processes to cost-effectively manufacture taller wind turbine towers.

Larger wind turbines equal greener energy

According to a Swiss study, “The Bigger the Turbine, The Greener the Electricity?” for every doubling of the size of the turbine, “global warming potential per kWh (is) reduced by 14%.” The study was conducted by Marloes Caduff and his associates at the Zurich Institute of Environmental Engineering in Zurich, Switzerland.

Caduff and his research team claim that there are two main reasons for the benefits of larger turbines. First, producers, now with decades of experience under their belts, are better at creating the massive blades, supports and motors. They “now have the knowledge, experience and technology to build big wind turbines with great efficiency.”

Second, recent advances in materials have allowed the turbines to dramatically increase in size without a corresponding increase in mass. That way, blades can be larger and capture much more wind while the tower and other parts can remain unchanged.

According to the researchers, the combined effects of these reasons allow for bigger and better turbines to be produced without using significantly more materials or drastically increasing transportation and assembly costs. The increased size of the turbines actually saves materials by reducing the number of total turbines needed to produce the same amount of power.

Further reading

US Department of Energy-Wind Vision

Zurich Institute of Environmental Engineering -Wind Power Electricity: The Bigger the Turbine, The Greener the Electricity?