Energy Dept.: Taller Wind Turbines, Longer Blades Will Make Wind Power Ubiquitous in the U.S.

Taller wind turbines and longer blades could increase the technical potential for wind deployment in the U.S. by 54%, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said today as he unveiled a new report from the Department of Energy (DOE). 

The report, “Enabling Wind Power Nationwide,” essentially posits that if advanced turbine concepts with hub heights of 110 meters (m) are used, the technical potential for wind deployment would surge to 4.3 million square kilometers (km2), compared to current technology with hub heights of 80 m. If hub heights of 140 m are used, the technical potential would grow to 4.6 million km2—a 67% increase compared to current technology. The geographic distribution for this expanded wind technical resource includes new regions, such as the Southeast, the report says.

If technology innovations that will enable higher hub heights and larger rotors are realized, U.S. wind power could provide 20% of U.S. power needs with high grid reliability by 2020, it claims.

As of January 2015, wind turbines with a total nameplate capacity of 65 GW installed across 39 states generated about 4.9% of the nation’s power.

Nearly half of wind turbines installed in Europe since 2008 are between 121 m and 150 m tall—especially in Germany, where wind turbines at heights of up to 116 m are already prevalent. But in the U.S., where nearly all turbines installed in 2013 had hub heights lower than 100 m and towers no taller than 120 m, a number of hurdles would need to be overcome to use taller towers and longer blades, the report notes.

These include transportation of key components. “For example, the height of bridges limits the diameter of towers that can be transported by truck. Innovations to address these challenges include on-site manufacturing, modular components, and new materials and designs for larger systems,” it says.

The report echoes a document released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory last week, which found that the tower diameter transportation constraint and perceived blade tip height limit are currently the constraints most affecting wind installations today.

The DOE’s report notes that the use of taller turbines will require addressing environmental and human use factors, such as how they could affect interactions with birds and bats, or how they would affect civilian or military radars.

“Continued research and development, as well as federal, state and local inter-agency coordination, on potential impacts and options for mitigation and resolution are required to ensure responsible deployment,” it says.

The report is a supplement to the DOE’s March-released report, “Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States.” That report found that through continued innovation in technology and markets, the deployment of incremental U.S. wind power generation is both feasible and economically compelling.

Moniz—who unveiled the report as he gave a keynote address at the American Wind Energy Association’s 2015 WINDPOWER conference and exhibition in Orlando, Fla., on May 19—said the report lays out a “credible fast-forward look” at the type of deployments that are needed to achieve a low-carbon future.

“The idea of accelerated deployment post-2020 is pretty much aligned with our commitments to double our carbon reduction pace after 2020,” he later told reporters (see what else Moniz said about the carbon challenge, renewables here).

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)


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