Next-Generation Wind Technology

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The Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO) works with industry partners to increase the performance and reliability of next-generation wind technologies while lowering the cost of wind energy. The office's research efforts have helped to increase the average capacity factor (a measure of power plant productivity) from 22% for wind turbines installed before 1998 to an average of nearly 35% today, up from 30% in 2000. Wind energy costs have been reduced from over 55 cents (current dollars) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 1980 to an average of under 3 cents per kWh in the United States today. To ensure future industry growth, wind industry technology must continue to evolve, building on earlier successes to further improve reliability, increase capacity factors, and reduce costs. This page describes the goal of WETO's utility-scale wind technology research efforts and highlights some of its recent projects.

Wind energy technologies available for licensing from U.S. Department of Energy laboratories and participating research institutions can be found on the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Energy Innovation Portal. View all WETO next-generation technologies research and development projects by visiting the WETO Projects Map and selecting Program Area: Next-Generation Technology Development and Manufacturing.

Research Project Highlights

These are some of the key research project highlights from the program's next-generation wind technology research.

Prototype Development

What makes a wind turbine break? NREL’s drivetrain experts want to know.
Learn more about how DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory is testing the causes of drivetrain failures.

Modern wind turbines are increasingly cost-effective and more reliable, and have scaled up in size to multi-megawatt power ratings. Since 1999, the average turbine generating capacity has increased, with turbines installed in 2016 averaging 2.15 MW of capacity. WETO research has helped facilitate this transition, through the development of longer, lighter rotor blades, taller towers, more reliable drivetrains, and performance-optimizing control systems.

During the past two decades, the office has worked with industry to develop a number of prototype technologies, many of which have become commercially viable products. One example is the GE Wind Energy 1.5-megawatt (MW) wind turbine. Since the early 1990s, the program worked with GE and its predecessors to test components such as blades, generators, and control systems on generations of turbine designs that led to GE's 1.5-MW model, which has constituted approximately half of the nation's installed commercial wind energy fleet and is a major competitor in global markets.

Component Development

WETO worked with industry partners to improve the performance and reliability of system components. Knight and Carver's Wind Blade Division in National City, California, worked with researchers at the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories to develop an innovative wind turbine blade that has led to an increase in energy capture by 12% The most distinctive characteristic of the Sweep Twist Adaptive Rotor (STAR) blade is a gently curved tip, which, unlike the vast majority of blades in use, is specially designed to take maximum advantage of all wind speeds, including slower speeds.

More recently, to support the development of more reliable gearboxes, the program has worked with several companies to design and test innovative drivetrain concepts. Through the support of $47 million in DOE funding, the nation's largest and one of the world's most advanced wind energy testing facilities was opened at Clemson University to help speed the deployment of next- generation energy technology, reduce costs for manufacturers, and boost global competitiveness for American companies.

Transforming Wind Turbine Blade Mold Manufacturing with 3D Printing

Highlighted Project: Innovation in the design and manufacturing of wind power generation components continues to be critical to achieving our national goals. As a result of this challenge, the U.S. Department of Energy's Wind Energy Technologies Office and Advanced Manufacturing Office are partnering with public and private organizations to apply additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, to the production of wind turbine blade molds. The traditional method of blade design requires the creation of a plug, or a full size representation of the final blade, which is then used to make the mold. Creating the plug is one of the most time-intensive and labor intensive processes in wind blade construction, so 3D printing saves these critical resources.

Utility-Scale Research Turbines

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) has helped pioneer wind turbine component, systems, and modeling methods that have driven industry acceleration. The facility offers multiple test sites, several dynamometers, onsite manufacturing resources, and structural validation capabilities. Research being done at the NWTC complements DOE's Atmosphere to Electrons (A2e) initiative, which targets significant reductions in the cost of wind energy through an improved understanding of the complex physics governing wind flow into and through wind farms. Innovative wind energy research at the NWTC includes:

  • Using computational fluid dynamics to develop the Simulator for Wind Farm Applications and other modeling and controls tools, which help wind farm operators minimize the impact of turbine wake effects by investigate plant performance under a full range of atmospheric conditions. Studies have shown that by coordinating turbine controls to curtail wake effects, the overall wind power plant output could be increased by 4%–5%.
  • Utilizing the controllable grid interface test system, which reduces wind turbine certification testing times and costs while providing system engineers with a better understand of how wind turbines, photovoltaic inverters, and energy storage systems react to disturbances on the electric power system.
  • Analyzing offshore wind energy in the United States to illuminate industry needs, opportunities, and anticipated impacts in this burgeoning renewable power industry.
Wind Turbine Timelapse

International Collaboration

As a member of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Wind Energy Executive Committee, the office supports international wind energy research efforts by participating in 12 areas of wind energy research. The office's participation in these international research efforts provides U.S. researchers an opportunity to collaborate with international experts in wind energy, exchange recent technical and market information, and gain valuable feedback for the U.S. industry. For more information on IEA activities, visit the International Energy Agency website.

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Next-Generation Wind Technologies News

DOE Announces Funding for Advanced Wind Turbine Generator R&D
WETO has announced a Funding Opportunity Announcement entitled "Advanced Next-Generation, High-Efficiency, Lightweight Wind Turbine Generator."
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Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines Could Reduce Offshore Wind Energy Costs
A new study by Sandia National Laboratories looks at the feasibility for deep-water offshore installations of a less-common wind turbine design.
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Top 4 Trends in the U.S. Wind Market
Wind power capacity in the United States continued to experience strong growth in 2017.
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On-Site Research to Determine Causes of Premature Drivetrain Gearbox Failure
Although wind energy costs have declined, premature drivetrain failure still can lead to higher-than-expected turbine operation and maintenance costs.
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Competitiveness Improvement Project Hits First Certification Milestone
Primus Wind Power achieved certification in February 2018 of its Primus Air40 wind turbine model.
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Groundbreaking Experiment Steers Wake Away from Downwind Turbine
An experiment successfully demonstrated that the wake from an upwind turbine can be steered away from a downwind turbine by yawing the upwind turbine.
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U.S. Department of Energy and Geological Survey Release Online Public Dataset and Viewer of U.S. Wind Turbine Locations and Characteristics
The USGS and DOE released the United States Wind Turbine Database and Viewer to access this new public dataset.
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Energy Department's Competitiveness Improvement Project Hits First Certification Milestone; Opens Next Round of Applications
The latest request for proposals under the Competitiveness Improvement Project for distributed wind energy was released.
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Wind Turbines in Extreme Weather: Solutions for Hurricane Resiliency
Offshore wind turbines on the Atlantic coast (as well as the Gulf Mexico) have several challenges to contend with—including hurricanes.
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U.S. Conditions Drive Innovation in Offshore Wind Foundations
This blog is part of a series that explores offshore wind technical challenges that are different in the U.S. than in other countries.
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Next-Generation Wind Technologies Publications

2017 Wind Technologies Market Report
The 2017 Wind Technologies Market Report summarizes the major trends in the U.S. wind power market in 2017.
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2017 Offshore Wind Technologies Market Update
Provides stakeholders with quantitative information about the offshore wind market, technology, and cost trends in the United States and worldwide.
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Enabling the SMART Wind Power Plant of the Future Through Science-Based Innovation
This report explains how new energy science and technological breakthroughs could cut the cost of wind energy in half by 2030.
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Enabling Wind Power Nationwide
Report shows how the United States can unlock the vast potential for wind energy deployment in all 50 states.
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