The race is on to build a bigger, stronger blade for wind turbines. Bigger blades can harness more wind power, thus generating more electricity. However, as it is often said, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. An ultra-large wind turbine blade has to be strong to withstand the winds it is designed to harness but it must also be light to maximize efficiency and reduce stress on the rest of the mechanism. In the case of an offshore wind turbine, the higher wind speed averages it aims to capture also pose a big threat. Should a blade buckle under the pressure of gale-force winds, repair, replacement and recovery costs would be quite substantial. In order to avoid such a catastrophe, testing must be performed on proposed wind turbine blade designs before they are deployed; but where do you test a blade that is nearly as long as a football field?
Previously, U.S. wind turbine developers have had to test any blade over 50 meters (about 164 feet) in Europe but now that kind of research can be done right here in the U.S. According to a recent statement issued by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) the nation’s first large-scale wind turbine blade test facility is now complete and ready to help get innovative wind turbine designs out of the development phase and working to generate renewable energy for the nation.
The new facility is located in Boston, Massachusetts at Boston Harbor and is capable of testing blades up to 90 meters in length. According to the DOE, that makes the facility capable of testing longer blades than any other in the world. To put that into perspective, were a wind turbine to have a blade that was 80 meters long, it’s total blade diameter would end up being over 160 meters, or about 590 feet, long. That’s just shy of two football fields in length.
The DOE first pledged $2 million when it chose Massachusetts for the facility’s location in 2007. Then, in 2009, it put another $25 million worth of stimulus funds toward the wind turbine blade testing center. Construction of the facility reportedly took a little over two years to complete and generated about 300 jobs in the process.