Grand Challenges in Wind Energy Science

In coordination with global experts, NREL is leading the discussion of critical challenges in the research and development of wind energy to support renewable energy goals.

Grand Challenges Publication Series

A series of publications in Wind Energy Science featuring NREL authors highlights needs in wind energy research and development.

Explore the grand challenges publication series below.

As the nation moves toward higher renewable energy contributions to the electrical grid, the demand for wind energy advancement and deployment grows. However, to meet that demand, critical challenges around the design, development, and deployment of land-based and offshore wind energy must be addressed.

The spark to compile the “grand challenges” in wind energy ignited at an NREL-led workshop in 2017, where 70 wind experts representing 15 countries identified areas of wind energy research that require further progress from the scientific community. In 2019, 29 scientists from NREL and other worldwide academic, government, and industry organizations coauthored an article on the issue published in the journal Science.

NREL researchers in 2022 coordinated an effort with 100 worldwide wind energy experts to write a series of 10 articles for Wind Energy Science (see the Publications section below) on the grand challenges to dig into what research could help fill the gaps and address critical needs for wind energy advancement. This effort was supported and guided by the European Academy of Wind Energy Publications Committee.

Objectives

The grand challenges to help wind energy contribute to a carbon-free energy system in the United States include:

  • Wind resources, atmospheric science, and the physics of air flow at wind farms
  • System dynamics and materials involved in wind turbines and wind farm technology
  • Optimization and control of wind farm operation and maintenance for reliability and resiliency
  • Environmental co-design to situate wind farms to local constraints and opportunities
  • Social science to identify how wind plants can add value to host communities
  • Crosscutting and emerging initiatives, such as digitalization and education.
A pyramid with four levels. The bottom level is labeled Generation 1: Wind and the Rotor and includes achievement blocks for Aerodynamics and Structures; Ocean/Atmosphere Interaction, Environmental Co-Design, and And Others are unresolved. The second level is Generation 2: The Wind Turbine System, which includes Low-Cost Wind Turbines; Social Sciences, Floating Turbines, and And Others are unresolved. The third layer is Generation 3: The Plant and the Grid, which includes Plant-Level Control; Grid-Forming Hybrid Plants, and And Others are unresolved. The top of the pyramid is Generation 4: Future Energy System, and the single block is labeled Carbon-Free Energy. To the left of the pyramid, an arrow shows increasing impact toward the top. To the right of the pyramid is text reading, “To reach this future vision, the grand challenges need to fill this massive gap!”
This pyramid illustrates four generations of wind energy development. Each generation's achievements expanded wind energy's impact (shown in the blue boxes on the left); however, in moving quickly from generation to generation, some underlying science was left unresolved (shown in the white boxes on the right). Generation 1 delivered working energy conversion systems, Generation 2 solved low-cost and reliable turbines, and Generation 3 is beginning to provide controllable wind plants that support the grid. The aspirational goal of Generation 4 is a carbon-neutral future energy system. Wind can be the foundation for the fourth generation—but not until the gaps in the previous generations are addressed. Graphic by NREL

Focus Areas

This effort identified three focus areas for research in wind energy science and technology as well as a cross-disciplinary area and one that addresses societal and environmental impacts. With these R&D needs identified, researchers can better tailor their work to fill the gaps, which could enable more efficient, cheaper, and more reliable wind energy generation across the United States and the world.

Grand Challenge 1: The Atmosphere

To improve wind turbine performance and reliability, researchers must increase characterization of air turbulence, wakes (slower air movement downwind of a wind turbine), and local climates to understand their effect on energy generation. Specifically for offshore wind farms, additional research is needed to optimize for offshore wind environments.

Grand Challenge 2: The Wind Turbine

Increasing sizes and flexibility of wind turbines have surpassed modeling tools. To update those models, researchers need more large-scale experimental data to validate upgrades and develop new simulation tools. On the smaller side of wind turbines, advancing small-scale wind turbines is necessary to support the growing distributed wind energy deployment.

Grand Challenge 3: The Plant and Grid

To optimize wind energy generation, further research must analyze complex air flow through wind farms and how wind farm and hybrid power plant systems can contribute to the electric grid.

Crosscut: Digitalization

Large amounts of data are gathered through research on wind energy. That data needs to be made accessible to the industry to efficiently support further research and development as well as standardization amongst stakeholders.

Beyond Technical Borders: Environmental and Social Issues

With increased deployment of wind turbines and wind power plants around the country, additional investigations should evaluate the impacts on wildlife and habitats while engaging society to assess its needs, opinions, and acceptance of the industry’s growth.

The publications listed below elaborate on these areas.

Publications

Grand Challenges: Wind Energy Research Needs for a Global Energy Transition, Wind Energy Science Discussions (2022)

The Atmosphere

Impact of Atmospheric Turbulence on Performance and Loads of Wind Turbines: Knowledge Gaps and Research Challenges, Wind Energy Science (2022)

Mesoscale Wind Plant Wakes, Wind Energy Science (2022)

Scientific Challenges to Characterizing the Wind Resource in the Marine Atmospheric Boundary Layer, Wind Energy Science (2022)

The Wind Turbine

Grand Challenges in the Design, Manufacture, and Operation of Future Wind Turbine Systems, Wind Energy Science Discussions (2022)

Current Status and Grand Challenges for Small Wind Turbine Technology, Wind Energy Science Discussions (2022)

The Plant and Grid

Wind-Farm Flow Control: Prospects and Challenges, Wind Energy Science Discussions (2022)

Grand Challenges of Wind Energy Science—The Grid, Wind Energy Science (2022)

Digitalization

Grand Challenges in the Digitalization of Wind Energy, Wind Energy Science Discussions (2022)

Environmental and Social Issues

Interdisciplinary Research Challenges in Wind Energy at the Intersection of Engineering and Environmental Science, Wind Energy Science (2022)

Social Aspects of Wind Energy Development, Wind Energy Science (2022)

Contact