•  Next-Gen Developments in Wind Power Technology

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Where Is Wind Going? Next-Gen Developments in Wind Power Technology


With the declining cost of wind power, this popular alternative energy has the potential to power a third of the world's electricity needs by 2050. Technological advances facilitated a manufacturing product cost decline of 43% from 2009 to 2012.

Many countries, such as Germany, Spain, India, and Denmark, already have established wind turbines hooked into large-scale distributed wind systems. China and France also have invested in long-term research and development projects.

Here in the United States, we leave the development of wind energy technologies. Tax incentives, government programs, and investor-backed private energy companies compete to further reduce manufacturing, installation, operation, and maintenance costs. Scientists and alternative energy business people have combined forces to improve wind turbine's power production and reliability as well as explore new methods for storing wind energy.

Exploring Offshore for New Turbine Locations

What provides a steadier supply of wind than a big open field? The ocean.

Though the cost to manufacture, install, and maintain an offshore wind turbine is about twice that of a large, land-banded turbine, the Department of Energy estimates offshore wind turbines will make up 20 percent of all of the nation's wind energy supply by 2030.

That's approximately 54 gigawatts, or enough to power 16 million homes.

Locations targeted for development include coastal Northeastern areas like Maine, North Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Long Island as well as Northern California, Southern Oregon, and the southern coast of Hawaii's Big Island. Organizations have also considered the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico for offshore wind energy.

While most of the research currently focuses on developing offshore resources in shallow water areas for obvious installation reasons, the DOE supports research of deep-water-based, floating foundations for large turbines along the West Coast and parts of the Atlantic near Maine.

Size Matters: Different Size Turbines Offer Niche Benefits

Large-scale wind farming utilizes hundreds of turbines, each generating about 20 megawatts, hooked up to a grid. Now research and funding pours into developing different sizes of wind turbines for smaller and more rural communities across the United States.

Small turbines, generating up to 50 kilowatts, represent excellent supplemental energy sources for households, small farms, and schools. They also make great primary power sources for small communities in remote areas, such as villages in Alaska. A single megawatt can power 250 homes, meaning about five turbines can power an entire village.

Many people believe medium-sized turbines can boost local economies and provide a similar kind of reliable energy sources for rural areas. Now researchers and investors look to expand different sizes and their benefits, be it supplemental supply, power for small communities, distributed wind supply, or utility-scale power.

New Battery Materials Might Store More

Perhaps the biggest complaint about wind energy is its intermittency. Researchers haven't found a reliable storage measure yet. The present solution to the storage problem involves using costly flow batteries. The Department of Energy wants to decrease the current cost of flow batteries from $700 per kilowatt-hour of storage capacity to $100 in order to make it economically viable.

Flow batteries uses vanadium, costing about $80 per kilowatt-hour. That doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room in the way of economic viability. Scientists have explored using quinones instead, which would slice the cost to $27 per kilowatt-hour. Because quinones are organic, they are cheaper and easier to work with. Quinones comprise the negative side of this up-and-coming battery, and bromine fills the positive side. This metal-free combination represents a near-perfect storage capacity.

Two Blades or Three?

We all know how a turbine works. Three blades the size of airplane wings face into the wind. A low pressure pocket on downwind side of the blades begins pulling them and turning the rotor. The dragging and lifting propels the three blades and spins a generator to create energy.

What if you could sustain the same basic principle, but use two blades instead of three?

It would save you anywhere from 15 to 20 percent in manufacturing costs. Previous two-blade turbine models had issues with the blades smacking the tower, but new developments have circumvented this problem with controlled rotor-braking.

Two-blade prototypes require a lighter rotor that would also go on the tower's downwind side. They would also need lighter, hinged blades that withstand the force of the downwind drag and lift. In other words, it could generate energy comparable to an offshore turbine-roughly 6MW for a large turbine-but would weigh roughly 40 tons less. You'll save money on materials for the turbine's gearbox, foundation, and the tower.

So don't think of a wind turbine as a risk or a waste of money. Organizations all over the world back them, and new technologies make wind power more affordable and accessible all the time. And since wind turbine service and support continues to grow, wind turbine maintenance companies will be able to stay ahead of wear and tear no matter what kind of wind turbine you buy. Investing in a wind turbine has never been more viable.