December 11, 2012
Cheaper Wind Turbine Blades Using Fabric?

Kevin Bullis, a very good energy writer at Technology Review, has the details.

GE hopes to make wind turbines far cheaper, and open up new ways to design them, by ditching the stiff fiberglass blades they use now in favor of turbine blades made out of fabric.

The fiberglass blades are becoming too heavy as blades get bigger. A different approach is needed.

In North America cheap shale natural gas has driven down the cost of gas-fired electric power so far that wind, solar, coal, and nuclear can't compete. Larger blades reduce costs in part by reaching higher up into the air where wind is stronger. Wind blade size needs to grow much more to compete.

Itís estimated that to achieve the national goal of 20% wind power in the U.S., wind blades would need to grow by 50% -- a figure that would be virtually impossible to realize given the size constraints imposed by current technology. Lighter fabric blades could make this goal attainable.

This project is still at a research stage.

What I wonder: When will new large wind turbines start getting used to replace existing smaller wind turbines at old wind sites? A lot of the best sites were developed first and have higher quality wind. With turbines 2 or 3 times bigger a lot more power could be harvested from these sites.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 December 11 10:12 PM 

Kent Gatewood said at December 12, 2012 8:34 PM:


Ronald Brak said at December 13, 2012 2:45 AM:

Replacing old wind turbines with bigger and better ones is being done. In Altamont pass the old, quite small, wind turbines are being replaced and all the old ones are planned to be removed by 2015. But these turbines date back to the 70's. I doubt there'd be many places where wind turbines would be replaced before they are at or near the end of their operating life. And then if the foundation and pylon are okay it may still be more economical to just replace the blades and nacelle with something of the same size. It has been suggested that larger turbines could be errected to take advantage of the stiff winds at Penistone, as many of the locals feel quite badly about the small size of their now 20 year old wind turbines. However, nothing is likely to happen until either maintenance costs rise, or the cost of new wind turbines falls.

Engineer-Poet said at December 13, 2012 3:24 PM:

I'm surprised that "ragwings" appear to be getting a new lease on life in wind turbines.  I wonder how GE intends to control aeroelastic phenomena like flutter?

doug said at December 13, 2012 3:29 PM:

Halkway serious thought: Any way to put t'gallants on those things? Thinking windmill eqivalent of clipper ships?

dscott said at December 17, 2012 1:55 PM:

At what point do we decide endangered birds are more important than wind power that literally chops them up? Green is not green when it is indiscriminately and wholesale destroying avians in their flightpath

Ronald Brak said at December 17, 2012 5:03 PM:

Modern wind turbines don't chop birds up. The smallest and oldest, such as the ones at Altamont pass were whirling blenders of death, but they're nearly all gone now. To emphasise the safety of modern wind turbines and how they protect birds by limiting global warming, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the UK is building a wind turbine at its headquarters.

Nick G said at January 4, 2013 4:22 PM:

Altamont Pass also has a very unusual concentration of endangered birds going through that pass.

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