Wind Turbine Blade Design Rapidly Evolving

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A new report from Navigant Research has concluded that innovation and lean manufacturing are resulting in the rapid evolution of blade design and manufacture, allowing wind turbine vendors to meet “future challenges” and helping them prepare “to compete purely on cost against traditional generation.”

Siemens turbines ( report is the fifth issue of the BTM Consult bi-annual Supply Chain Assessment 2014 — Wind Energy report published by Navigant Research, and examines the significant forces shaping the global wind power industry’s supply chain.

“This is a time of high creative ferment in the wind power industry,” says Jesse Broehl, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “Long dominant blade designs and manufacturing processes are evolving, with repercussions all along the value chain—from the materials (such as resins, fiberglass, and carbon fiber) to the blade suppliers and the turbine manufacturers themselves.”

The evolution of the industry has allowed technological innovation to not only push the industry further, but also to decrease the cost of manufacturing. Wind turbine blade manufacturing in particular is seeing major innovation and evolution in terms of design, with turbine manufacturers “making major capital-intensive investment changes in how blades are designed, what materials are used, the manufacturing processes behind them, and what companies they source from.”

“The supply chain plays an outsized role in this process through improvements and innovations in components and manufacturing processes,” write the authors of the report in their executive summary. “Over the past 2 years, more flexible supply chain sourcing strategies have resulted in cost reductions, enabling greater geographic market access while reducing risk and ensuring profitability for wind turbine vendors and their many partners in the component value chain.”

The authors of the report highlight the design and innovation of blades as an example of “a particularly strong area of strategic product evolution and sourcing shifts.” Blades continue to evolve along lines such as aerodynamics, as well as novel approaches with split and segmented blades to improve the transportation of large blades. New materials are being used as well, and the report focuses heavily on these, with detailed sections on epoxy resins, polyesters, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and pre-impregnated reinforcement materials.

As blades evolve to be longer and more efficient, so too do towers evolve to be taller, accessing stronger and more persistent winds.

And though current market conditions are seeing many facilities being run at partial capacity, the report concludes that “product innovation, lean manufacturing, and sourcing are resulting in a highly competitive wind industry ready for the challenges of today’s and tomorrow’s wind markets.”

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

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13 thoughts on “Wind Turbine Blade Design Rapidly Evolving

  • Wind Turbine design: a science and a technology in its infancy. Future will possibly hold a catalog of designs for specific wind situations.

  • A couple of things I wonder about. First why do they not have airplane wing like airfoils on the tips? Second there is evidence making the blade have a profile like a whale fluke would also be a big improvement.

    • Is there evidence? I tried searching on Web of Science, but could only find older articles, most dating back to 2008 and light on experimental data. The dearth of recent material suggests the idea has been abandoned, which usually means the idea isn’t as good as initially expected.

    • An important difference between airplane wings and turbine blades is that the tip is moving faster than the parts of the blade closer to the hub. Helicopter blade design ideas might be relevant here.

  • Now I see that they have implemented my free advise of incorporating strips of orange red on the blades to help birds avoid the blades.

    • They could paint them in the UV range that birds can see.

  • “helping them prepare ‘to compete purely on cost against traditional generation.'”

    I thought wind was already cheaper than just about everything except maybe hydro. Or is that only after subsidy?

    • Perhaps Joshua means compete against paid off thermal plants.

      Or perhaps Joshua isn’t keeping up with current wind prices. Four cents (the unsubsidized cost of wind) is competitive with some paid off coal and nuclear plants.

  • People with an engineering background, prepare yourselves for the stupidest question ever asked on the CT forums…

    As I understand it, a key limiting factor for maintenance and repair on these behemoths is how far the hub is above the ground. Just like phone towers, power lines, etc., the taller the turbine gets, the more dangerous and expensive it is to fix. And as the blades get longer to utilize higher-altitude winds, the taller the turbine gets.

    Now, imagine building a turbine (on dry land by necessity) with the hub at or very near ground level. To accommodate the blades during the half of each revolution when they’re below the hub, you’d basically have to dig a very narrow slit-trench as deep into the ground as the length of the blade. My question: would that half-revolution hidden from direct contact with the wind erase any gains from vastly longer blades with less expensive and less hazardous maintenance? And I’m guessing either the slit-trench needs sump pumps up the wazoo, or this would only be practical in climates with very little precipitation and lower-than-low water tables (Arizona, Sinai, Algeria, Xinjiang, Alice Springs, etc.).

    Or am I completely in the dust and someone’s already doing this?

    Thanks, and flame away.

    – your friendly neighborhood soc/anthro major

    • A creative way to solve the “where’s the chopper?” question. But a couple of reasons why it won’t get used.

      First, half of the blades would be out of the wind at all times. That would cut output by 50%. Plus it would put a lot of stress on the blades as they moved in and out of the wind stream.

      Second, the wind close to the ground is far less regular and strong than the wind higher up. At first wind turbines were built with hub heights of 50 meters. Then it became obvious that wind was much better at 80 meters off the ground. Now we’re looking at making towers even higher.

      I’ll tag on a map that shows the parts of the US where there is not adequate wind at 80 meters to make wind farms worthwhile but by increasing tower height to the 96 to 100 meter range there is commercially viable wind.

    • That creates an uneven torque on the blades and tower that repeats every revolution. There is already some of this because wind is greatest at height. So the blade receives more high winds when it is at the top of the rotation.
      If the blade was below the surface on each rotation, the blades would experience a sudden increase in torque and the tower would experience more vibration.
      This is one reason three bladed turbines were developed. They are more dynamically balanced than two bladed types which exaggerate this problem.

      • I believe that’s why designs that mounted the blades downwind of the nacelle went away. Just the wind shadow created by the tower caused stress as the blades moved in and out of the dead zone.

        Off topic –

        Mexico is starting up a project with concrete towers and a hub height of 120 meters.

        “The use of concrete means that greater tower heights can be achieved; it facilitates the local supply and manufacture of the segments because they can be produced in places close to the wind farms and do not require highly-specialized labor; production and transport costs are reduced; concrete is less subject to price fluctuations than steel, and major synergies can be exploited with the processes involved in laying the foundations for the wind turbine towers.”

        And as long as I’m doing an offtopic news drop, wind pulled further ahead of nuclear in China in 2014.

        • Better version.

          This is electricity produced. Not nameplate capacity.

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