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US lab opens largest wind turbine R&D study

A 2.3 MW wind turbine will be the centerpiece of a multi-year US project to study the performance and aerodynamics of large wind turbines in a major government-industry research partnership for wind power generation.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Siemens Energy formally commissioned the wind turbine at NREL's National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) in Colorado, USA. Under a cooperative research and development agreement, Siemens and NREL will test basic wind turbine characteristics and verify new performance enhancing features of the wind turbine over at least three years.

The 2.3 MW wind turbine unit is one of the largest land-based wind turbines deployed in the USA and the largest at the NWTC site. The wind turbine is fitted with instruments to provide wind turbine performance data on aerodynamics, power characteristics, vibration monitoring, system fatigue and acoustics, under a full range of real-world operating conditions, such as severe weather.

Under the initial phase of the US$14 million research programme, Siemens will contribute US$9m and NREL will fund US$5m. The 80 m tower can generate 7050 MWh a year at a typical site, but output at the NWTC site will be limited to 2,800 MWh.

"This important new research programme will help us further enhance the performance of our turbines and lower the cost of clean, wind-generated power which, in turn, will help diversify the overall mix of power generation sources in the US,” says Barry Nicholls of Siemens Energy. "The state-of-the-art wind turbine you see before us is the focal point for the largest and most significant government-industry wind power R&D project ever to be undertaken," adds NREL director Dan Arvizu.

Installation of the wind turbine at the National Wind Technology Center started this summer, and follows Siemens' decision to locate its own wind research and development centre in nearby Boulder. Similar to wind turbines used to generate power, this prototype features a blade that is designed to capture more wind energy without increasing the loads that can cause wear on the other wind turbine parts.

NREL researchers are interested in the foundations that will be required to support larger wind turbines. NREL and Renewable Energy Systems Americas have entered into a separate agreement to study the design and performance of wind turbine foundations, with the goal of increasing reliability of non-turbine components and reducing wind turbine installation costs.

"Last year, NREL worked with the DoE to publish the most comprehensive examination of wind power potential in the United States," says Arvizu. "The study for the first time demonstrated that it's feasible to produce 20% of our nation's electricity needs from wind energy and that is a crucial understanding because achieving 20% wind energy will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and help free us from our dependence on foreign fuel supplies."

The project is part of a coordinated wind research programme supported by the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. NREL is DoE’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy research and development, and is operated for DoE by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy.

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