There is an important series of events required to convert wind to electricity. New improvements to wind turbine drivetrains can increase both performance and reliability. Engineers aren’t just working on the technical aspects of the components. They’re also looking to improve domestic industry with their design choices.

A hotbed for this next-generation energy research is the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Researchers at NREL conducted a study for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to assess the state of the US manufacturing and supply chain capabilities for developing and producing advanced wind turbine drivetrain technologies.

The best ideas, technologies and business plans have to be able to compete in this highly demanding market. Part of the competitiveness is the ability to deliver consistently and at low cost.

Getting from prototype to mass production requires advanced manufacturing and a tightly knit supply chain. Being able to manufacture and distribute the components is a matter of resources as much as one of connections and capabilities. This is where strategy becomes important.

As described in an NREL news brief, the need to reduce the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for wind power can be met by investment in key areas. These investments include both fundamental research and manufacturing competency.

Specifically, “The first priority investment is technical research and development and manufacturing capability for medium-voltage and permanent-magnet generators because these technologies appear to have the greatest likelihood for reducing mass, improving efficiency, and lowering LCOE.”

Priority is put on these technologies because they have little existing manufacturing or research and development activity in the United States. That makes this type of investment capable of having a considerable impact.

NREL researchers also recommend high-torque speed increasers and full silicon carbide (SiC) switches. The high-torque speed increasers (including new bearing configurations) and SiC switches can both improve power conversion and reliability, thereby reducing the LCOE, but they are expected to have less impact on manufacturing and supply chain practices.

Identifying and establishing strategic manufacturing and supply chain capabilities in North America can aid the competitiveness of wind energy. Although there are other methods for reducing the cost, such as autonomous inspection of these structures, there is much value in producing the technologies at home. With the variety of directions that energy production is taking, the need for focus and planning is all the more important to make new technologies sustainable.


Image courtesy of NREL



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