Wind generated electricity has steadily become a greater part of many countries power generation portfolios. One of the major difficulties facing proponents of expanded wind power is that wind turbines still remain expensive. In fact, most turbines in place in the Unites States are heavily subsidized by the government.
A new project, developed by GE and sponsored by the Advanced Research Project Association (ARPA), is looking to dramatically reduce the cost of manufacturing wind turbines by creating blades that replace fiber glass with fabric.
Currently, wind turbine blades are created by shaping the entire structure from fiberglass. This process is not only time consuming and labor intensive but it leads to dramatically more expensive turbines. According to ARPA “GE’s research will focus on the use of architectural fabrics, which would be wrapped around a metal space-frame, resembling a fishbone. Fabric would be tensioned around ribs which run the length of the blade and specially designed to meet the demands of wind blade operations.”
GE expects that their new fabric blades will cost up to 40 percent less because of reduced manufacturing cost and also because the fabric blades can be assembled on-site rather than having to be transported by inefficient convoy. If GE’s estimates are correct this reduction in manufacturing costs might bring the price of wind generated power down to a level where it’s competitive with fossil fuels without having to be a burden on taxpayers.
Another benefit of having a hollow fabric blade is that its overall reduction in weight can be translated into a larger, lightweight blade. By combining these two attributes, wind turbine blades can capture a greater volume of wind while also being able to turn their turbines at lower wind speeds. Wendy Lin, a principle engineer at the project sums up how important this development might be, “Developing larger wind blades is the key to expanding wind energy into areas we wouldn’t think of today as suitable for harvesting wind power. Tapping into moderate wind speed markets, in places like the Midwest, will only help grow the industry in the years to come,”
Read More at Energy.gov & GE
Images Courtesy of GE and Wikipedia