What are some innovations in wind energy?

Answer by Mike Barnard:

  • Wind turbine height: the wind is stronger higher off of the ground and taller wind turbines can catch more of it.
  • Mechanical efficiency: wind turbines have slowly evolved to eliminate unnecessary gearing and friction.  Many now have no gearboxes at all, significantly reducing complexity and gearing related losses.
  • Specialization: Lower wind conditions get bigger blades and smaller generators.  Higher wind conditions get narrower blades and larger generators.
  • Aerodynamic improvements: The blades cut through the air better and generate more aerodynamic lift due to advances in their shape and changes to their shape through their length to accommodate different relative air speeds between tip and hub.
  • Optimized maintenance: Well understood and costed best practices for maintaining specific wind turbines in specific conditions, ensure that they maintain the optimal balance, lubrication and uptime.
  • Robustness: Wind turbines are now large scale machines with better tolerance for high-winds, icing and other realities of exposed structures. Wind turbine failure, while it makes for spectacular pictures and videos, is extremely rare.
  • Wind modeling:  Understanding and modeling of wind conditions at specific sites is much more accurate now than 20 years ago.  This allows the right wind turbines to be selected and sited to maximize use of the wind resource in the specific location.
  • Instrumentation and automation:  Wind turbines are heavily computerized today to adjust to maximize power output in different wind conditions.  In addition, they are connected through SCADA-interfaces to wind farm managers and grid operators who receive real-time updates on the state of the turbines, allowing much faster response in the event of problems.  This maximizes performance in the moment and minimizes downtime.
  • Advanced materials: Materials for blades are being refined regularly, with stronger and lighter blades enabling increased robustness and increased efficiency.
  • Advanced coatings: Manufacturers are now applying advanced coatings which deteriorate much more slowly on blades, especially the leading edge. This increases laminar flow and maintains aerodynamic efficiency for longer.

For full references for each of these innovations, please see: The wind doesn’t blow all the time. Why doesn’t this make wind power ineffective?

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