Alternative Energy & Fuels

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Slow Wind, Huge Turbines

24 May, 2009


With politicians pushing adoption of renewable energy in the United States and Europe, The last few years have seen a surge in plans for wind farms--both on land and sea. But wind power isn't viable everywhere--and prime coastal spots are often already developed.

So some wind-turbine makers are shifting their focus toward building bigger wind turbines that can harvest the lower-speed winds that are more readily available. This next generation of wind turbines is no small matter: their rotors have a diameter the size of a football field.

In general, wind turbines get more powerful and efficient with taller turbine towers and larger areas swept by the blades, according to the American Wind Energy Association. A turbine's swept area is a key indicator in how much power output potential the turbine has.

"Lower wind-speed turbines certainly open up more land for development," said Rich Reno, platform leader for General Electric's new 2.5-megawatt wind turbine. "Larger turbines open up the opportunity to get more megawatts out of a given piece of land."

Finding new sites for wind farms is essential to the sector's growth because many of the places with the most attractive wind conditions tend to be developed already. More efficient turbines also make wind power a more realistic option for countries like Germany, which is not very windy and has relatively limited shoreline, where winds tend to be stronger. Despite those obstacles, the country has the world's second largest installed base of wind power.

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