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Utility-Scale Wind Turbine Research

NWTC Researchers in the nacelle of a Siemen's 2.3-MW, 80 meter wind turbine at NREL's National Wind Technology Center in Boulder County, Colorado.

Photo by Dennis Schroeder

NREL's utility-scale wind turbine research addresses performance and reliability issues that large wind turbines experience throughout their lifespan and reduces system costs through innovative technology development. NREL helps industry partners design larger, more efficient rotors by developing more accurate and dependable aerodynamics design models. In addition, NREL conducts structural tests of full-scale wind turbine blades and subcomponents to improve blade reliability.



Controls and reliability: Researchers at the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) design and test advanced wind turbine control systems to maximize energy production and reduce structural loads.

Design methods, tools, and standards: NREL researchers provide industry partners with design reviews and analyses, technical assistance, and parallel research.

Energy analysis: This capability plays a vital part in informing policy and investment decisions as renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies move from innovation to integration.

Technology testing and certification: NREL engineers provide wind industry manufacturers, developers, and operators with turbine and component testing that ensures performance and reliability.

Resource characterization, forecasting, and maps: Researchers at the NWTC have collaborated with industry partners to produce high-resolution maps of the United States that supply wind plant developers with precise estimates of the wind resource potential.

Utility grid integration: NREL's grid system integration analysts work with DOE, university researchers, independent system operators, and regional transmission organizations to provide the system characterization data and models that empower electric power system operators to more efficiently manage wind grid integration.

Wind plant modeling and simulation: NREL engineers have worked with the industry to develop advanced computer-aided engineering (CAE) tools with state-of-the-art simulation and analysis capabilities.


A panoramic view of an utility-scale wind turbine farm at Red Hills Wind Farm.

Photo by Todd Spink

Dynamometer test facilities: The dynamometers at the NWTC allow businesses to test drivetrains with a capacity rating of up to 5 MW.

Structural test facilities: Results from the blade tests conducted at the NWTC help industry partners verify and improve new blade designs, analyze blade structural properties, and improve their manufacturing processes.

Field test sites: Manufacturers can install their full-scale wind turbines on the NWTC's field test sites to test their turbine's performance in extreme conditions.

Advanced controls research turbines: Two 600-kW Westinghouse utility-scale turbines on the campus allow researchers to test new control schemes and equipment in order to better reduce loads on wind turbine components.

Partner facilities: Our partner centers—the Wind Technology Testing Center in Massachusetts and Clemson University Restoration Institute in South Carolina—offer additional testing facilities for blades and drivetrains.

Scaled Wind Farm Technology Facility (SWiFT): SWiFT is designed to perform studies to enhance the efficiency of wind farms in fields including wake-induced loads, wake energy loss, advanced rotor development, turbine control in wind farms, and advanced sensing.


Standards: NREL works with the American Wind Energy Association'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.

NWTC large turbines: NREL collaborates with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and industry partners, including Siemens, Gamesa, and Alstom, to conduct aerodynamics field experiments on the wind turbines 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.

Gearbox Reliability Collaborative: The goal of the Gearbox Reliability Collaborative 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.

Atmosphere to Electrons: Atmosphere to Electrons (A2e) is a multi-year DOE research initiative to better understand the complex physics governing wind flow into and through wind farms in order to significantly reduce the cost of wind energy.

Active Power Control: Active Power Control is a comprehensive study performed to understand how wind power technology can assist the power grid by controlling the active power output being placed onto the system.

International Collaborations: NWTC researchers leverage U.S. research dollars by participating with many international research organizations. NWTC joins forces with several of the world's most respected institutions.


Dave Simms