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NREL - National Renewable Energy Laboratory
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Large Wind Turbine Research

NREL's utility scale wind system research addresses performance and reliability issues and reduces system costs through innovative technology development with industry partners.

A crane lifts the blades up to the nacelle of the DOE 1.5 wind turbine.

Against Colorado's blue sky, technicians construct the U.S. Department of Energy 1.5 MW turbine for long-term wind energy research and development at the National Wind Technology Center.

System Performance Improvement

In 2009, NREL worked with the U.S. Department of Energy to install a GE 1.5-megawatt (MW) wind turbine at the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) that will be used as a tool for long-term testing and R&D. It will be instrumented to collect detailed data that will help researchers address a variety of issues, including premature turbine component failure.

Advanced Rotors

NREL is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy and Siemens Energy to conduct aerodynamics field experiments on the Siemens 2.3-MW wind turbine installed at the NWTC. The experiments utilize sonic as well as conventional anemometers and wind vanes on the NWTC's 135-m meteorological tower to measure inflow. Densely arrayed surface pressure taps and strain gages on the blades combined with other machine state sensors measure turbine responses. The data gained from these experiments will provide new insights into multimegawatt turbine aerodynamic response, structural loading, power production, and fatigue life that can be used to increase reliability and performance.

NREL is also helping industry design larger more efficient rotors by developing more accurate and reliable aerodynamics design models. These models can be applied to increase the reliability and energy capture of wind energy systems, which will lead to lower cost of energy.

In addition, NREL conducts structural tests of full-scale wind turbine blades and subcomponents to improve blade reliability. Results from the blade tests conducted at the NWTC are used by industry members to evaluate the effects of design and manufacturing flaws and help establish manufacturing flaw limits for production blades prior to field deployment.

Gearbox Reliability

Researchers at the NWTC are collaborating with leading industry experts to improve gearbox performance. The goal of the Gearbox Reliability Collaborative (GRC) is to validate the typical design process—from the wind turbine system loads to bearing rating—through a comprehensive dynamometer and field-test program on two extensively instrumented gearboxes. This design analysis will isolate gaps in the state-of-the-art design process and form a basis for improving reliability of future designs and retrofit packages.

Design Standards

NREL works with AWEA's Development Board and wind industry experts to develop national guidelines. These guidelines will capitalize on existing IEC Standards to avoid creating new standards and will help facilitate compliance verification activities by local inspectors and project developers attempting to permit wind turbines.

Utility scale turbines at the NWTC tower beside the Rocky Mountains.

The National Wind Technology Center.