NREL launches massive wind R&D project in Colorado

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) and Siemens Power Generation have begun a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) for testing wind turbine aerodynamics, structure and reliability.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL, Golden, Colo., USA) National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) announced on Oct. 23 that it and Siemens Power Generation have begun a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) for testing wind turbine aerodynamics, structure and reliability. The research will be done on a Siemens 2.3-MW wind turbine recently installed at NREL.

"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," NREL director Dan Arvizu said. "Under the cooperative research and development agreement we have in place, Siemens Energy, NREL and the U.S. Department of Energy will put this 2.3-megawatt turbine through all of its paces, in all kinds of conditions, in a rigorous testing regime that will continue for a minimum of three years, at a shared cost of $14 million."

NREL's Arvizu was joined at a turbine commissioning event by executives from Siemens and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), as well as Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, who lauded the latest partner to join NREL's clean energy research portfolio.

"Siemens joins an inspiring list of visionary companies that are becoming part of Colorado's New Energy Economy," Ritter said. "Together, with public and private partners like these, we are leading America toward a new, cleaner and more secure energy future."

The primary objective for the joint NREL-Siemens research is to better understand the aerodynamics of turbines. Under the CRADA, teams will test the turbine and its features for a minimum of three years involving a full range of real-world operating conditions, including severe weather. Siemens will contribute $9 million and NREL will contribute $5 million.

"At Siemens, innovation is one of our core values. That's why we are especially pleased to join forces with our nation's leading wind research facility," said Barry Nicholls, senior vice president of Siemens Energy. "This important new research program 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 U.S."

Although similar to turbines currently being used to generate power, the Siemens wind turbine at the NWTC is a late-stage prototype that features a new blade designed to capture more of the wind's energy without increasing the loads that can cause wear on other turbine parts. The turbine also is fitted with instruments that will provide data on aerodynamics, power characteristics, vibration monitoring, system fatigue and acoustics.

"This is the best place in the world [for these kinds of tests], this is the hot house of aerodynamic and atmospheric research," Siemens Chief Technology Officer Henrik Stiesdal said. "We want pressure and blade variations [data] as it rotates; we want it to be beaten up here. This … will enable us to reduce the cost of energy."

CRADA partners believe the research will support the wind industry's efforts to enhance the reliability and performance of utility-scale commercial wind turbines. If this is achieved, it will enable the industry to improve its manufacturing processes — another factor that will help continue bringing down the price of wind energy. "Colorado has the leading corridor for renewable energy R&D in America and the world. And I know this is true because no one has openly disagreed with me," Ritter said. "Our energy future is transforming beneath our feet. Our children and grandchildren will produce and consume energy far differently than we do today."

In addition to the turbines themselves, NREL researchers are studying the foundations needed to support large wind turbines. NREL and Renewable Energy Systems Americas (RES) have entered into a separate but coordinated agreement to examine the design and performance of turbine foundations, with goals of increasing the reliability of non-turbine components. This will also help reduce turbine installation costs.