Blades of Glory: Wind technology bringing us closer to clean energy future

This article by Niketa Kumar is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Energy blog.

The Energy Department is supporting the validation of newly developed technologies at wind testing facilities across America.
There’s a simple truth in wind energy — the longer the blade, the more watts generated.

ӬӬIn the 1980s, blades were typically 65 feet long. Today, as the wind industry continues to grow, blades measure over 150 feet. Looking down the road, the next generation of wind turbine blades is expected to span beyond the length of a football field.ӬӬ

In the United States, energy generation from wind turbines has grown by 27 percent over the last year, with production facilities now in more than 40 states. We want to make sure the best, most efficient wind energy technologies are developed and manufactured here in America.ӬӬ

Niketa Kumar
Public Affairs Specialist, Office of Public Affairs

To that end, over the past four years, the Energy Department has made significant investments in our nation’s wind turbine testing capabilities. As we like to say in the industry, any new wind turbine technology is only as good as the tests it undergoes. By supporting the testing and validation of newly developed technologies, we are working to reduce costs for manufacturers, speed deployment of next generation technologies into the marketplace, and promote the growth of American companies. Our testing facilities are also attracting companies from around the world to come and design, manufacture and test their blades in the United States, creating jobs here.”¨”¨

Groundbreaking in Lubbock, Texas
Wind farms can host hundreds of wind turbines operating simultaneously, impacting the aerodynamics of the wind plant and its ability to capture energy. Recently, the Energy Department joined with Texas Tech University and Sandia National Laboratories to break ground on a new testing facility in Lubbock, Tex. The Scaled Wind Farm Technology (SWIFT) facility will initially feature three research-scale wind turbines with space for seven more. Through SWIFT, private and public institutions will be able to assess new methods and technologies for optimizing whole wind farms’ performance and power production.

ӬӬBigger blades, offshore turbines
Located near the Port Authority in Boston Harbor, the Wind Technology Testing Center is the first commercial large-blade test facility in the nation and allows for testing of blades longer than 270 feet.”¨”¨ With close proximity to substantial offshore wind resources and a 1200-foot dock for transporting blades, the center’s location also provides easy access to test larger wind turbine blades for offshore applications. More research and development into longer blades will help drive the creation of large-scale offshore wind power facilities.

The Boston facility, which opened in May 2011, builds off the Department’s National Wind Technology Center in Boulder, Colo. Since 1993, this test facility has helped both private industry and public researchers and academics pursue new wind technology development, from more efficient blades up to 160 feet in length to stronger, more durable drivetrains.”¨”¨

Drivetrain testing in South Carolina
In Charleston, S.C., the Clemson University Drivetrain Test Facility is aimed at boosting American manufacturing innovation and competitiveness in wind turbine drivetrains.

Located at a converted Navy warehouse, this center will test the machinery that converts wind energy to electricity, allowing engineers to simulate 20 years worth of wear and tear on large drivetrains in only a few months.

Over the next year, the facility expects to open two testing bays — one for 7.5-MW drivetrains and another for 15 MW ones. Once completed, this facility will be the only one of its kind in the world. In fact, some of the wind gust exposure tests will not be replicable anywhere else in the world.

The testing facility investments we’ve made across the country, from Massachusetts to Texas to South Carolina, are creating jobs and driving American manufacturing growth. This is also why President Obama has called on Congress to extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which provides an important tax credit to utility-scale wind producers in the United States and has helped drive this industry’s expansion. At a time when we’re testing blades as big as airplanes and drivetrains the size of train locomotives, these are vital steps to supporting the continued growth of our nation’s clean energy economy.

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