For Wind Energy, Bigger May Actually Be Better

by Erin Larsen

A new design for offshore 50-megawatt (MW) collapsible wind turbine blades could help bring wind energy mainstream in the United States. Sandia National Laboratories was tasked with the challenge of designing a low-cost, offshore 50-MW turbine requiring a rotor blade more than 200 meters long. The research and development for the gigantic blades was funded by the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program. These blades are two-and-a-half times longer than any existing wind blade and longer than two football fields.

The design of the huge blades is inspired by by the way palm trees move in storms. The “trunk” of the turbine features a segmented build with a cylindrical shells that bend at the joints in the wind, while still retaining segment stiffness. The turbines themselves are called Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotors (SUMR). They are lightweight, flexible, and assembled in multiple segments. At dangerous wind speeds, the blades are stowed, while at lower wind speeds, the blades spread out more to maximize energy production. Continue reading