Europe’s UpWind project is delivering on its promise of developing a 20 MW (megawatt) wind turbine, using only current technology and materials. The largest wind turbines in use today are only about 6-10 MW, so the 20 MW Upwind turbine — conceived as a offshore installation located in the North Sea — represents a quantum leap forward for grid-connected wind power.
Obstacles to a 20 MW Wind Turbine
In a North Sea location, a single wind turbine could power up to 20,000 homes, more than enough to provide all the residential energy use of many small towns and cities. The big sticking point is money. Given the goal of using only current technology, UpWind researchers found that a 20 MW wind turbine would be up to 20 percent more expensive than the smaller turbines in use today.
Solutions for a 20 MW Wind Turbine
The UpWind collaboration includes about 40 private an public sector partners, and the resulting solution (piloted by the Technical University of Denmark) is a “smart” turbine blade with an edge that acts like the flaps on airplane wings. It moves up and down to adjust to turbulence, reducing fatigue and preventing extreme loads from interfering with the efficiency of the turbine. Instead of using anemometers to measure wind speed at individual points, DTU adapted a laser-based technology used in research, that can measure wind speed over distance. The next step is to adapt the laser measuring system, called LIDAR, to fit in the hub of the turbine.
What Good is a 20 MW Wind Turbine?
The U.S. wind industry has had to adapt quickly to emerging issues such as noise, aesthetics, and impacts on wildlife (to say nothing of political issues), and at first glance it would seem that a 20 megawatt turbine would add to the headaches. However, a super-large turbine could actually resolve some of these conflicts by opening up the opportunity to install more megawatts at appropriate sites where these issues are not in play, for example in brownfields and other remote sites that are inhospitable to wildlife due to previous development.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.