Enormous blades could lead to more offshore energy in U.S.

An interesting proposal for huge wind turbine blades…the length of which would be greater than two football fields…could mean 50-megawatt turbines for offshore use. Sandia National Laboratories is researching the extreme-scale blades for the Department of Energy. Most wind turbines presently yield between one and two megawatts, so this would be an enormous jump in power production. This new design could be built in segments, making unnecessary the large equipment needed to transport and put together current wind turbines. During hurricanes, the blades could be stowed and lined up with wind direction, exactly the way a palm tree does.

From Sandia news media contact: Stephanie Holinka (slholin@sandia.gov) —

Sandia National Laboratories’ research on the extreme-scale Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotor (SUMR) is funded by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program. The challenge: Design a low-cost offshore 50-MW turbine requiring a rotor blade more than 650 feet (200 meters) long, two and a half times longer than any existing wind blade…

“Exascale turbines take advantage of economies of scale,” said Todd Griffith, lead blade designer on the project and technical lead for Sandia’s Offshore Wind Energy Program.

Sandia’s previous work on 13-MW systems uses 100-meter blades (328 feet) on which the initial SUMR designs are based. While a 50-MW horizontal wind turbine is well beyond the size of any current design, studies show that load alignment can dramatically reduce peak stresses and fatigue on the rotor blades. This reduces costs and allows construction of blades big enough for a 50-MW system.

Most current U.S. wind turbines produce power in the 1- to 2-MW range, with blades about 165 feet (50 meters) long, while the largest commercially available turbine is rated at 8 MW with blades 262 feet (80 meters) long.

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Todd Griffith shows a cross-section of a 50-meter blade, which is part of the pathway to the 200-meter exascale turbines being planned under a DOE ARPA-E-funded program. The huge turbines could be the basis for 50-megawatt offshore wind energy installations in the years ahead. (Photo by Randy Montoya)