In the US, researchers are working on vast wind turbines taller than the Eiffel Tower
Project at the University of Virginia was awarded a US3.5 million grant by the US Department of Energy
By Anmar Frangoul
Researchers in the U.S. are designing and looking to develop 50 megawatt (MW) wind turbines with “extreme-scale blades” 200 meters in length. To put things in perspective, if built, they will be taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.
The Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotor (SUMR) project is being led by researchers at the University of Virginia. In 2015 the project was awarded a three year grant of more than US$3.5 million by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E.
“It’s incredibly challenging, because the scale is so big,” the University of Virginia’s Eric Loth told CNBC in a phone interview. “I don’t know if I have any other project that I’ve been working on in the last 30 years that has been… so challenging in that respect,” he added.
According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), there is now more than 14,000 MW of installed offshore wind power capacity across 14 markets.
Ambitions for the SUMR project are big. On its website, the team says that bringing its project to full fruition will represent “a major step toward maximising U.S. offshore wind power.”
In the U.S., the offshore wind industry is still in its infancy. It was only at the end of 2016 that America’s first offshore wind farm, located off the coast of Rhode Island, commenced commercial operations.
Looking at the broader picture, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has said that offshore wind resources are “abundant, stronger, and blow more consistently than land-based wind resources.”
Back in Virginia, Loth told CNBC that the SUMR project was very much at the conceptual stage. He added that next summer the team hoped to test a 20 per cent scale version of the turbine on a site just outside of Denver, Colorado.
“Our big push right now is for something called a summer demonstrator,” he said. “We’re right now designing the blades.”
“They’re going to be ultra-light lades, lighter than any other blade at that scale that’s ever been done. And it will be proof of concept, so we’re excited.”