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 Revisited: Wind Energy Research Needs for a Global Energy Transition

Explore the new report on wind energy grand challenges.

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.

In February 2023, NREL researchers again gathered with energy experts from around the world in Boulder, Colorado, to not only further explore the five grand challenges but also to examine eight cross-disciplinary issues created at the intersections of the grand challenges.

The five grand challenges identified are:

  • The atmosphere
  • The turbine
  • The plant and grid
  • Environmental codesign
  • Social science.


Many countries around the world, including the United States, have set ambitious wind energy targets for the next decade and beyond. Achieving an energy system that depends on wind power for 50% of global electricity demands will require developers to deploy a magnitude more wind energy capacity than is currently installed. And, for the United States to make wind a foundational energy source for the clean energy transition, it will also have to make progress in all five of the grand challenge areas. 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.

Focus Areas

This effort identified three focus areas for research in wind energy science and technology as well as two that address environmental and societal impacts.

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 be the foundation for the future electric grid.

Grand Challenge 4: Environmental Codesign

Quantifying and reducing wind infrastructure-related impacts to the environment often require interdisciplinary research and integration of technology with wind turbines or wind farms. By codesigning a wind energy project with environmental considerations from inception, the industry can mitigate or minimize impacts that may delay or restrain future deployment goals.

Grand Challenge 5: Social Science

The social dynamics of wind energy development should also be considered along with efforts that focus on the technical elements of the field. Researchers and implementers can re-envision these dynamics and bolster opportunities for win-win outcomes.

Cross-Disciplinary Areas

The researchers surveyed in the course of these efforts also determined their level of interest on bilateral interdisciplinary challenges. In addition to the five grand challenges, the researchers explored the following cross-disciplinary topic areas:

  • Environment-turbine
  • Turbine-atmosphere
  • Atmosphere-grid/plant
  • Grid/plant-turbine
  • Grid/plant-environment
  • Atmosphere-environment
  • Turbine-social
  • Social-grid/plant.

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.

Illustration of four gears: design, economics, environment, and society and how those lead to wind turbines as a sustainable solution.
Tomorrow’s environmental and social codesign requires cross-disciplinary considerations in design, economics, environment, and society to produce a sustainable solution for wind farms, such as those offshore. Illustration by Taylor Henry, NREL, adapted from Carlo Bottasso, Technical University of Munich


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 (2024)

Mesoscale Wind Plant Wakes, Wind Energy Science (2024)

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 (2023)

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

The Plant and Grid

Grand Challenges of Wind Energy Science—The Grid, Wind Energy Science (2024)

Wind-Farm Flow Control: Prospects and Challenges, Wind Energy Science (2023)


Grand Challenges in the Digitalization of Wind Energy, Wind Energy Science (2023)

Environmental Codesign

Interdisciplinary Research Challenges in Wind Energy at the Intersection of Engineering and Environmental Science, Wind Energy Science (2024)

Social Science

Social Aspects of Wind Energy Development, Wind Energy Science (2024)

Tackling Grand Challenges in Wind Energy Through a Socio-Technical Perspective, Nature Energy (2023)