Improvements in composite turbine blades will power the wind energy industry.
Wind is an increasingly important source of renewable energy. In 2015, wind power installations generated about 435 gigawatts (GWs) of power worldwide, approximately seven percent of all global power, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). By 2030, GWEC projects that wind power could supply 2,110 GW, or about 20 percent of global electricity demand.
At least some of that growth will depend upon the advances made in the next decade in the composition, design and construction of composite turbine blades. Navigant Research, which specializes in analyzing clean energy markets, says that stakeholders involved in the wind turbine industry are devoting a greater amount of research and development investment to wind blades than to any other component in wind turbines. Blades are key to energy production; the longer the turbine’s blades, the longer the swept area and the more power they generate.
Long 73.5-meter blades are producing the power for Deepwater Wind’s new Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island. The five-turbine, 30-megawatt wind farm, the first offshore wind energy installation in the U.S., began feeding electricity into the New England power grid last December.
GE Renewable Energy supplied the turbines. LM Wind Power, subcontractor for the turbine blades, built them at its Denmark plant and then shipped them to Block Island for installation in June 2016.
The 73.5-meter blades were the longest in the world when LM Wind Power introduced them in 2012, according to Lene Mi Ran Kristiansen, senior manager, communications and sustainability, global communications. “With this blade, several innovative features were introduced to keep the weight down and ensure a smaller root diameter, but it was based on existing polyester technology.”
The company used different materials to create its record-breaking 88.4-meter blade last June. A new hybrid carbon fiber material combined properties from the less-expensive glass fiber with very light but expensive carbon fiber. “With all the blades, there’s a balance to strike between weight and length, cost and performance,” says Kristiansen.
The challenges when building these giant blades are very much related to having adequate manufacturing facilities, equipment and logistics solutions to get them from the plant to their destination. That destination is offshore for these big blades, and tools that can cost effectively enable storage on land, transport by boat and crane handling offshore are key.