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Size does matter

June 28th, 2017 · No Comments

A simple truth is that, when it comes to wind power, size matters. The taller the tower, the better the wind conditions. The larger the blade length, the more energy captured. When it comes to wind, economies of scale are both in the number of turbines getting deployed and in terms of the energy production potential from each individual turbine. And, this reality is showing up in the real world.

As per that graphic, a doubling in high-end turbine size/height over the past 15 years with another 50% growth to come in the next few years.  As Reuters’ headline put it, windpower’s big bet: turbines taller than skyscrapers.

Further increases in height and size are serious engineering challengers — can the towers be built and turbines deployed — but we shouldn’t expect the turbines to stop at 10 megawatts. At the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects-Agency (ARPAE) innovation summit, earlier this year, I spoke with a University of Virginia team who envision their technology enabling 50 megawatt offshore wind turbines.  Having passed muster to secure $3.7 million in ARPAE funding through 2019,

The team led by the University of Virginia will design the world’s largest wind turbine by employing a new downwind turbine concept called Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotor (SUMR). Increasing the size of wind turbine blades will enable a large increase in power from today’s largest turbines. The SUMR concept allows blades to deflect in the wind, much like a palm tree, to accommodate a wide range of wind speeds (up to hurricane-wind speeds) with reduced blade load, thus reducing rotor mass and fatigue. The novel blades also use segmentation to reduce production, transportation, and installation costs. This innovative design overcomes key challenges for extreme-scale turbines resulting in a cost-effective approach to advance the domestic wind energy market.

As discussed in Scientific American,

The team envisions these gigantic [500 meter tall] gigantic structures standing at least 80 kilometers offshore, where winds tend to be stronger and where people on land cannot see or hear them,

If, in 2020, deployed offshore wind turbines are in the 10 mw range, this UVA team envisions multiplying that figure at significantly reduced prices perhaps as early as the mid-2020s. If this occurs, just this one project will pay off the entire taxpayer investment in ARPAE many times over.

UPDATE: August 2017 article: Super Colossal Wind Turbines might be on the horizon.

The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that raising the height of wind turbines from 80 to 140 meters would almost double the land area across the country where wind power is cost-effective. Loth wants to go higher yet. He envisions 500-meter towers capable of generating 50 megawatts (MW) — roughly six times more electrical power than today’s largest turbines can pump out. – Super-Colossal Wind Turbines May Be on the Horizon – Aug.07.2017 via NBC News

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Tags: ARPAE · Energy · wind power