Pika Energy Develops Innovative Manufacturing Process and Lowers Production Cost Under DOE Competitiveness Improvement Project

September 16, 2015

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The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently awarded Pika Energy of Westbrook, Maine, with a third round of funding under the DOE Competitiveness Improvement Project (CIP). The purpose of the CIP is to help U.S. manufacturers that produce distributed wind systems to lower the cost of energy from their turbines and increase their market competitiveness. By focusing on component and manufacturing process improvements and turbine testing, the cost-shared CIP awards help small and midsize wind turbine companies improve their system designs and earn certification that shows they have met performance and safety requirements.

A photo of a large machine with many wires and tubes sticking out of it.

Under the most recent solicitation, Pika Energy was awarded funding to accelerate the development of a larger wind turbine system to the point at which certification testing can begin. The company will scale several components, including the nacelle and advanced controls that improve efficiency, electrical storage, yaw rate, and wind speed protection. To achieve the lowest possible levelized cost of energy, Pika will optimize across the entire system, considering interactions among component design choices such as the controller behavior versus tower structural loads.

Pika’s newest CIP project will build on the success of its earlier projects funded under awards issued in 2013 and 2014. These initial awards enabled the company to develop an advanced blade manufacturing process that dramatically lowered manufacturing costs and to develop, test, and successfully commercialize a small wind system.

One key technology breakthrough was Pika’s low-cost, high-performance injection-molded wind turbine blade. Conventional wind turbine blades are a major cost driver, requiring significant manual craftsmanship to achieve aerodynamic performance, structural integrity, and low weight. Pika’s innovation was to develop a tooling design and a cooling strategy that enables them to produce blades using injection-molded plastic—a low-cost, mass-manufacturing process.

Pika sent the blades produced with this new process to the National Wind Technology Center at NREL where they were subjected to millions of cycles of fatigue testing that demonstrated the durability of the injection-molded blades and provided a higher confidence in their ability to last. The company then incorporated the new blades on its T701 wind system that was sent to the High Plains Regional Test Center in Colby, Kansas, for certification testing and the turbine was successfully commercialized in 2014.

The CIP funding provided by DOE and the technical support provided by NREL were key to enabling Pika to develop and test its innovative manufacturing process that reduced the end-user cost of its wind turbine by more than $3,000.

Read more about DOE’s distributed wind research projects