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Policy & Politics longer wind turbine blades

Published on March 23rd, 2015 | by Tina Casey


US Energy Dept. On The Prowl For Bigger, Longer Wind Turbine Blades

March 23rd, 2015 by  

As if the fossil fuel industry needed more bad news, the US Energy Department has just put out the call for new, longer wind turbine blade technology that will unlock an additional one million square miles of land for wind energy development. The new funding opportunity is relatively small at $1.8 million dollars but this is truly a case of a little going a long way.

In case you’re wondering where to park those longer wind turbine blades, the Energy Department has that angle covered, too…

longer wind turbine blades

Another Million Acres For Wind Energy

Take a look at the map below and you’ll see a huge gaping hole in wind energy development in the US, right there in the southeastern region. Politics aside, one reason for that hole is the relative lack of good quality, lower-altitude wind resources.

To tap into that region, the Energy Department is looking for new technology that involves turbine towers at least 120 meters (393.7 feet) high, when measured from ground to turbine tub.

With greater height comes an opportunity to build longer wind turbine blades, which the Energy Department expects to clock in at least 60 meter.

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The Road To Longer Wind Turbine Blades…

As you can see from the first image in this article, transporting wind turbine blades is a whole operation unto itself that can add significantly to the installed cost of wind energy, so the Energy Department’s new funding opportunity is looking for transportability as well as operational efficiency in a new wind turbine blade design.

The new longer wind turbine blade funding opportunity announcement has all the details, but for those of you on the go, it’s part of a broader goal to reduce the cost of wind energy and introduce more wind energy into more regions of the US:

Solutions may include, but are not limited to, 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.

…And Taller Turbines Towers, Too

As for those taller wind turbine towers, they are already on the way. Last fall the Energy Department tapped Keystone Towers of Boston for something called an “on-site spiral welding system,” which will reduce or outright eliminate the need for costly, special transportation arrangements. The system is also expected to result in a steel tower that is 40 percent lighter than conventional towers, resulting in even more cost savings.

In the same $2 million funding package, the Energy Department also selected Iowa State to develop a modular system that also addresses the transportation cost issue while enabling greater height.

The Keystone system is based on proven technology used in the pipe manufacturing industry. We saw a similar approach last year when GE rolled out its new “Space Frame” taller wind turbine tower, which also leverages conventional methods to join smaller components together on site, rather than dealing with the cost of transporting larger components.

Wind Energy Politics Aside, Or Not

Returning to that thing about wind resources in the southeastern US, onshore wind energy is just part of the equation. Like the rest of the Atlantic Coast, the southeast has some mighty nice offshore wind energy resources, too.

In contrast to the Pacific coast, the Atlantic coast is relatively shallow, so Atlantic states don’t have to wait for deepwater wind turbine technology. That’s why the Obama Administration’s offshore wind development initiatives have been focusing on the Atlantic coast.

Coastal southeastern states basically refused to join the initiative, called the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium. However, last year the Bureau of Land Management began issuing leases for offshore wind energy development, so that big gaping hole in US wind energy development is going to fill in, like it or not.

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Image Credits: (top, courtesy of US Department of Energy NREL/PIX 16178; bottom, courtesy of US Energy Information Agency)

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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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