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12 Wind Energy Research Programs

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Wind turbines spinning on a wind farm.

Wind turbines spinning on a wind farm.

U.S. Department of Energy (http://www.eia.doe.gov/kids/images/games/wind-farm.jpg)

The United States has abundant wind resources, estimated to total more than 14.5 million megawatts between offshore and on-land capacity. Much of this potential remains untapped; only 43,600 megawatts of wind power had been installed in the U.S by the beginning of 2012.

Research laboratories and other organizations are actively working to solve technical challenges related to wind energy development. Many of these efforts are affiliated with the U.S. Department of Energy, which has a wind program administered by Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

In alphabetical order, here are twelve organizations that research wind power:

Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University, Ames, IA – Ames scientists and researchers are working to find replacements for rare earth elements, 17 substances that are increasingly expensive and primarily available from China which has restricted exports in recent years. The elements are critical to a range of technologies, including wind turbines. Ames is also looking into how wind turbines in corn and soybean fields may help crops stay cooler and drier, help them fend off fungal infestations and improve their ability to extract growth-enhancing carbon dioxide – CO2 – from the air and soil.

Argonne National Laboratory at the University of Chicago, ILArgonne is developing a GIS-enabled system to help mitigate undesirable visual impact of wind energy developments. Argonne researchers are also studying wind turbine drivetrain reliability, wind power forecasting, and wind energy development in critical wildlife habitats.

Brookhaven National Laboratory, Brooklyn, NYResearchers are studying how to design sturdy foundation structures for offshore wind turbine towers, assessing materials that include concretes with high fly ash content, as well as fiber reinforcement. Another team is developing a new generation of high temperature superconducting wires that can transport hundreds of times more electric current than a similarly sized copper wire, and has the potential to make a wind turbine generator lighter, more powerful and more efficient.

EOLOS Wind Energy Research Consortium of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, MN – Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in partnership with the DOE, the consortium is coordinated by the university with members from educational institutions, national laboratories and the energy industry. Primary areas of ongoing research include wind turbine performance and output, wind farm siting, and turbine interference with airport and weather radar systems.

Gavin Center for Electricity Innovation Consortium for Wind Energy Research, Education, and Workforce Development at Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL – The DOE financed this consortium of public and private participants to provide research that will “improve wind power reliability and performance, lower the price of wind energy, encourage greater integration into the utility grid and build an educated workforce to drive the industry.”

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, CA – Because wind can be intermittent, it can cause utility operators problems in managing the grid. A cross-functional team is focused on using Livermore’s modeling and computational expertise to refine wind-forecasting tools and reduce forecasting errors to provide grid operators with the data they need to reliably determine the output of wind generators and more effectively manage the electrical grid.

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in Los Alamos, NM – Although wind turbines can last for 20 years, the high failure rates of turbine blades, gearboxes, and electronic components and the resulting unscheduled maintenance diminishes the return on investment for wind-farm operators. These high failure rates may be caused by unsteady loading on the turbines from atmospheric turbulence and shear layers. Two projects are under way at LANL to study the aero-structural dynamics of wind turbines to learn how to predict, mitigate and control the relatively high failure rates of turbine mechanisms.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) with offices in Washington, DC, labs in Golden, CO, and the National Wind Technology Center in Boulder, CO – Along with extensive projects studying domestic offshore wind potential and large, midsize and small turbine technology, NREL cooperates with other research entities to resolve environmental issues that may hinder acceptance of wind installations. The lab cooperates with the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative Wildlife Workgroup on a study to determine the effects of wind turbines in prairie chicken habitat. NREL also collaborates with the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative, which investigates bats and wind turbine interactions.

Sandia National Laboratories with primary facilities in Albuquerque, NM, and others in Livermore, CA; Kauai, HI; and NVSandia has developed the first Continuous Reliability Enhancement for Wind (CREW) Database, which is a DOE-funded national reliability database that benchmarks and enables performance analysis of the current installed wind turbine fleet and identifies technology improvement opportunities. Other recent work has focused on developing a 100-meter wind turbine blade of fiberglass composite materials for offshore application. This would be significantly longer than the largest commercial blades in use, which are approximately 60 meters in length.

University of Houston, TX – The institution, which has ambitious plans for an energy research park, is involved in various research efforts directly applicable to wind power production. For example, university researchers are part of a government-industry team developing a low-cost superconducting wire that can transport hundreds of times more electric current than a similarly-sized copper wire, and has the potential to make a wind turbine generator lighter, more powerful and more efficient, especially for offshore applications. Other researchers are developing advanced materials that can withstand extreme offshore conditions, suitable for use in turbine blades and towers. In addition, they hope to streamline the manufacturing process for blades larger than 70 meters.

Texas Center for Superconductivity, Houston, TX – The center is among several facilities awarded grants to work on developing a superconducting magnet energy storage system device capable of storing energy with near-zero energy loss and a nearly infinite life cycle.

Wind Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA – The university recently received a National Science Foundation grant to fund a doctoral-level graduate program in offshore wind energy. Among the center’s primary research projects are turbine aerodynamics, blade materials and structural design.

Wind Science & Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX – The center includes the Great Plains Wind Power Test Facility. Featured research focuses on wind turbine exposure to extreme and unusual events and testing of wind-driven water desalination systems.

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