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Why wind turbines are going to get even bigger

Professional Engineering


They’re already vast almost beyond comprehension, but wind turbines are set to grow even larger in the decades to come, according to a new report published today.

A team of researchers from Germany surveyed the growth of wind as a source of renewable energy, and notes the dramatic improvements in the technology thanks to economies of scale. It foresees even larger, more cost-effective turbines in future. 

"The size of a state-of-the-art turbine is extremely impressive. The swept area of the rotor of a standard turbine is now twice the size of a football field," says Berthold Hahn, one of the authors of the paper. "In parallel to the development in size, the technology has also become mature, meaning cost-effective and reliable."

Today’s turbines can generate at least 100 times more power than their predecessors from the 1970s. Current turbines can generate five megawatts, but Hahn said market expectations are that future turbines could generate as much as 15 megawatts, and could have rotor diameters as high as 200 metres. 

They’ve also helped drive the cost of wind power from $500 per megawatt-hour to just $50. "The technical developments, like floating offshore turbines enabling the harvest of wind energy in very deep waters, integrated control strategies considering the needs of the grid, and artificial intelligence permanently assessing the performance of the turbines, have contributed to the impressive cost reductions," Hahn says.

However, the wind industry still faces pressure to cut costs. Improved maintenance could prove key – with more economical ways to maintain these giant turbines likely to be crucial. Drones and predictive maintenance could play an important role. 

Hahn believes turbines could become even more important as the energy system becomes more decentralised. "In many countries, wind energy has started to take over tasks of stabilizing the grid from large conventional plants, meaning that the energy systems are now eventually changing from a mainly centralized structure to a decentralized one," he says.

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