Giant Floating Wind Turbines Over the Horizon
Huge turbines mounted on floating platforms could make wind power competitive with fossil-fuel-generated electricity. These advanced wind turbines, which are in development, could be situated far from the shore, too, avoiding battles with onshore residents who object to the presence of large wind farms.
GE has announced a $27 million partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop 5-7 megawatt turbines by 2009, each of which could power well over 1,000 homes. Supplanting the company's current 3.6 megawatt turbines, these giant energy factories should make wind power more economical, since the major cost of building and installing offshore wind farms does not depend primarily on a turbine's size, but on the number of them that need to be erected. By 2015, GE could have even bigger, 10-megawatt turbines, according to Jim Lyons, leader of advanced technology for GE's wind energy business.
Making the turbines larger, however, comes with technical challenges. The new turbines will be mounted to towers rising 90 to 95 meters and will have rotors measuring 140 meters in diameter. Imagine a structure larger than a football field rotating at a leisurely ten to twelve revolutions per minute. To decrease the weight of the massive rotor blades and tower, GE plans to use composite fibers, as well as alternatives to the weighty gearboxes now used to transfer energy from the rotor to the electrical generator.
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