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Power Technology

There's a Wind Turbine On the Horizon With Blades the Size of Trump Tower 190

merbs writes: Imagine a stretch of open ocean, populated by a swath of wind turbines with skyscraper-sized blades, whipping into the gusts like enormous palm trees. The vision is partly terrifying, partly inspiring, and being taken entirely seriously by the federal government and one of our top research laboratories. [Sandia National Labs, in an effort led by the University of Virginia] has unveiled the preliminary design for a new offshore wind turbine with 650-foot turbine blades. That, as its announcement points out, is twice the size of an American football field. It's also roughly the size of Trump Tower in New York.
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There's a Wind Turbine On the Horizon With Blades the Size of Trump Tower

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  • Oblig XKCD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsborg ( 111459 ) on Friday January 29, 2016 @09:07PM (#51400287) Homepage

    Is there nothing that doesn't somehow tie back to XKCD?
    https://xkcd.com/556/ [xkcd.com]

    Seriously, this is cool - but the Trump name drop is as bad as apple-baiting.

    • Seriously, this is cool - but the Trump name drop is as bad as apple-baiting.

      I bet not even the Donald can build a bigger, more eco-friendly blade.

    • Re:Oblig XKCD (Score:5, Informative)

      by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Friday January 29, 2016 @11:35PM (#51400883)

      Well, Trump certainly does have a history with offshore wind farms. [bbc.com] He and his lawyers managed to delay the implementation of a wind farm project off the coast of Scotland for several years. It finally went ahead after he lost three successive court judgements.

      His objection was that the turbines would spoil the view from his golf course.

      • Is there nothing that doesn't somehow tie back to XKCD?
        https://xkcd.com/556/ [xkcd.com] [xkcd.com]

        Seriously, this is cool - but the Trump name drop is as bad as apple-baiting.

        Well, Trump certainly does have a history with offshore wind farms. [bbc.com] He and his lawyers managed to delay the implementation of a wind farm project off the coast of Scotland for several years. It finally went ahead after he lost three successive court judgements.

        His objection was that the turbines would spoil the view from his golf course.

        If Trump was a real scot that episode would have ended just like that XKCD cartoon except Trump would have shown up with claymore and a wearing a kilt, his comb-over waiving gracefully in the wind as he charged the wind turbines yelling: “They may take our lives, but they’ll never spoil the view from our golf-course!” with a really piss-poor imitation of a Scottish accent.

      • Not really exclusive to Trump.

        Pretty much anyone who's dropped a few $million on a shoreline estate (eg Kennedys, Walter Cronkite, David McCollough, etc) has fought against offshore wind farms on the exact same basis.

        • Are windmills really that ugly? You'd think these were offshore coal furnaces from the way they act.
          • by mikael ( 484 )

            If you want an pure natural ocean view of just the sea, the horizon and the sky, then yes they will ruin the view. There are hotels that are on the coast which can charge £150 night for a sea facing view, while rooms facing inland are only £100 night.

          • There's no accounting for taste, but I find modern windmills rather attractive. What isn't so nice is the unending "whump whump whump", and you need to be a mile or more distant before the sound isn't something that you have to made a decision about whether it's degrading your life.
      • by mikael ( 484 )

        There should be a compromise. The wind turbines get painted gold and have his company logo on the blades. Maybe somebody else can do advertising on them.

    • by Bob_Who ( 926234 )

      Seriously, this is cool - but the Trump name drop is as bad as apple-baiting.

      Right. Its also roughly the size of the Empire State Building, only its not campaigning.

  • Capitalism (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Mega installation which require mega capital which allow power companies to centralize production, control distribution, and charge consumers.

    It is more efficient and less prone to failure to have distributed production with small scale wind turbines, photovoltaic, etc. on peoples' homes. But then, well, where's the profit to the established interests?

    • True, but you have to admit that photovoltaics don't look as awesome as this. [nyt.com]
    • Generally in wind turbines the bigger they are the more efficient they are. The blades reach up higher into wind that is less affected by ground effects.

    • Re:Capitalism (Score:4, Informative)

      by stevelinton ( 4044 ) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Saturday January 30, 2016 @04:40AM (#51401601) Homepage

      Mega installation which require mega capital which allow power companies to centralize production, control distribution, and charge consumers.

      It is more efficient and less prone to failure to have distributed production with small scale wind turbines, photovoltaic, etc. on peoples' homes. But then, well, where's the profit to the established interests?

      It's not more efficient. It may be more desirable for several reasons, but with wind turbines for efficiency (power produced per dollar spent) you want the big and high up. This especially applies if you are building them offshore as is proposed in this case, because buildign the base and getting there to do maintenance are high costs that depend on the number of turbines, not the power produced.

      It's also not less prone to failure, at least for some definitions of failure, in that the wind is much steadier out at sea an a few hundred meters up. A professional maintenance and inspection regime also helps.

    • Are not big semiconductor companies "established interests"?
  • Maybe Not So Good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 )
    Just how quickly can these blades be secured and protected if wind storms approach? In many areas wind spouts (tornados over the water) are common events. So can these blades survive a 200 mph. wind?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29, 2016 @09:47PM (#51400467)

      Just how quickly can these blades be secured and protected if wind storms approach? In many areas wind spouts (tornados over the water) are common events. So can these blades survive a 200 mph. wind?

      Generally, bigger is better in wind turbines. Power generated is proportional to swept area, more mass means cleaner power which leads to more efficiency, and yes, larger, heavier turbine blades are more survivable in weather events. Modern turbines automatically self-furl as required, in much the same way that modern helicopter blades will auto-gyro in the event of an engine failure, and the mechanisms that do this work better if they are bigger.

      All that being said, weather can destroy literally anything less than planet-sized. But if weather brings down a modern windmill, the damage done by the weather event itself is likely to dwarf the damage done by the failure of the turbine and tower - unlike the failure of a large hydro dam, for example. And afterwards you can rebuild it with very few worries about the kind of large-scale, long-lasting contamination that other forms of power production (such as coal or fission) create during a weather event failure.

      Really only solar has a comparably benign failure mode in weather events - basically if you get hit by a flying chunk of solar panel or wind turbine blade, that's how you can get hurt, which is why some people prefer such things to be set up well offshore or in deserts.

      • Modern turbines automatically self-furl as required, in much the same way that modern helicopter blades will auto-gyro in the event of an engine failure, and the mechanisms that do this work better if they are bigger.

        Just looked this up. That is fucking COOL. Really neat engineering. Not the most complicated thing but still, really neat.

  • Bad Unit (Score:5, Funny)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Friday January 29, 2016 @09:17PM (#51400337) Homepage Journal
    I need to know how big it is in terms of Libraries of Congresses. Use standard units! That is approximately 12 LoC. Or 15 in Canadian LoC.
    • You could say it's Titanic.

  • Imagine a stretch of open ocean, populated by a swath of wind turbines with skyscraper-sized blades

    Now imagine those wind turbines getting hit by a hurricane.

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Friday January 29, 2016 @09:55PM (#51400485)
    living life in peace
  • by zAPPzAPP ( 1207370 ) on Friday January 29, 2016 @09:55PM (#51400489)

    Can we use sane measuring units please?
    How many stacked bananas is that?

  • This does sound like something with Trump's name on it.

    "Listen folks, we'll build turbines, and get the wind to pay for them."

    Hahaha ... oh, wait ...

  • That's yooooouuuuuuuge!!!
  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Friday January 29, 2016 @10:04PM (#51400519) Homepage Journal

    NASA Wind Turbines [wikipedia.org] approached this scale in the '80's. Unfortunately, this was a previously-unexplored area of aerodynamics for NASA, and they had mechanical stress and noise problems (including subsonics) and were all demolished. I think there was one near Vallejo, CA being taken down when I got to Pixar in '87, and one in Boone, NC, which famously rattled windows and doors.

    The art has since improved. I took a ride to the top of the turbine at Grouse Mountain, that was fun! That's the only one I have heard of where you can actually get to see it from the top.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The NASA ones are using the swept diameter for size, while the article quoting 650 ft is talking about the length of a single blade, i.e. radius. So these are about four times the linear dimension of the largest built NASA wind turbine, which is probably why it also produces about 16 times as much power.

      • Current blades are trucked in one piece (per blade) which is impressive to see. Three of them were parked on I-5 outside of Patterson, California a few months ago. There are a lot of net videos and photos which convey the scale.

        Even at the current size they can't get through many highway interchanges and local intersections. The larger ones won't be able to ship in one piece at all.

        • by stevelinton ( 4044 ) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Saturday January 30, 2016 @04:44AM (#51401615) Homepage

          Current blades are trucked in one piece (per blade) which is impressive to see. Three of them were parked on I-5 outside of Patterson, California a few months ago. There are a lot of net videos and photos which convey the scale.

          Even at the current size they can't get through many highway interchanges and local intersections. The larger ones won't be able to ship in one piece at all.

          "ship" is the point. These are designs of offshore turbines. They would probably make the blades in shipyards and transport them on a barge directly to the site.

          • It looks like they're going for assembly from pieces, even offshore. There are a lot of practical problems with handling really big airfoils. Pick it up on a crane and it's going to have a life of it's own.
        • The article says they're designed for offshore wind turbines so the blades can be fabricated in one piece near a harbor and loaded on barges to be shipped to the installation site.

        • The larger ones won't be able to ship in one piece at all.

          From the article "the five to seven pieces that form each turbine blade can be more easily shipped and assembled at the point of use".

          • This is mostly an aerodynamic issue. Pick that big an airfoil up on a crane, and it's going to swing around with great force. You have to split it up into pieces that you can manage while in the air.
            • This is mostly an aerodynamic issue. Pick that big an airfoil up on a crane, and it's going to swing around with great force. You have to split it up into pieces that you can manage while in the air.

              Sure, but even if that weren't the case they'd still need to do it to make them transportable.

    • This would be going about 10RPM to stay subsonic if my math is right... Interesting what the low frequency effects would be.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2016 @01:23AM (#51401147)

      Being an electrical engineer educated in Denmark, wind turbines was mandatory even though I specialized in digital electronics. This includes the history of wind turbines. During the oil crisis they became a hot topic worldwide and what I was told at the lectures about the US experimental wind turbines is that without prior knowledge, the engineers came up with the concept of borrowing knowledge from helicopter rotors. While it was planned to give them a head start compared to other countries, it showed the world that helicopters is a rotation to wind force converter and wind farms are wind force to rotation converter and they are two completely different topics with completely different issues. As I'm informed, they managed to completely rip a wind turbine apart in the first storm it encountered. That's not very promising for major investment.

      Danish wind turbine research started by a group of hippie professors (or something) who decided on green energy. They were viewed as loons at the time, but when the oil crisis hit, they had 10 years of experience, which gave Denmark the technological edge. In the 1990s, Denmark had 6 of the 10 biggest wind turbine companies (the country had 5.5 million people at the time) and while it isn't the supreme ruler in wind energy anymore, it is still the leading edge of the technology as well as home to the biggest manufacture. There is also wind turbines everywhere. There is a total of 13 existing offshore windfarms, but only 2 of those are in the North Sea despite the article mentioning "That's why there are so few offshore wind turbines in the oceans—they're mostly Denmark's, in the North Sea". The combined power output of wind turbines exceeds the demand, but since the wind isn't at peak capacity all the time, it "only" supplied 42% of the demand last year (42.1% but 42 is likely preferred here. Easier to remember... or something).

    • Can someone set me straight here, I'm not a science man but if I'm reading that right, the difference in power generated between the old ones and the modern ones seems vastly improved, are those old ones quite inefficient?

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Friday January 29, 2016 @10:07PM (#51400539)
    ... if a blade were the size of Trump's ego.
  • The bigger these things get, especially out in a place where you can't exactly put a fence around it, the more attractive it's going to be as a Spectacular Wackadoo Assault Target. Sit in a fishing boat and lop a few dozen armor piercing RPGs at crucial structural points, and kerplop. Whether it falls apart or not, it's trashed until millions of dollars of work is done to rebuild it.
    • Actually, it would be pretty easy to defend these things. Sonar installations surrounding the submerged parts, a radar on top. Torpedoes on the bottom, air to air on the top.

      But, moving back to reality, this sort of thing doesn't seem to happen. There are hundreds of very expensive platforms scattered all around the world just chock full of things that don't do well with explosives (or, depending on your point of view, work just fine with them). We don't see too many terrorist attacks on oil platforms.

      T

  • Preferably by the neck.
  • This is going to trigger my wind turbine allergy like crazy!

  • by mothlos ( 832302 ) on Saturday January 30, 2016 @01:46AM (#51401193)

    I'm no opponent to wind power, but the blades aren't really the stumbling block with making wind turbines larger and better. We want to build our wind turbines larger as they will rotate slower and capture more energy. The problem is transferring that energy through the hub of the turbine. More energy and slower revolution means huge torque which has to be sped up to generate electricity. Wind turbine gear boxes are still the constraining factor for improvements. Do we have any idea how these designs plan on handling this problem?

    If anybody wants to read about an actual attempt to address this, here [nottingham.ac.uk] is a thesis on a system which uses wind turbines to run gravitational pistons to directly generate compressed air.

  • Wonder if something of this size will have much affect on aquatic life that depends on electrical and magnetic fields. something of this size would have to have a pretty large affect on the surrounding environment in this area.
  • They forbid flying RC models with tiny propellers and instead install such monsters. There is more than enough generating capacity for decades to come, if we start producing electricity by saving it.

    It could be further LED lamps research & development, limiting air-conditioned and heated areas in houses by the law, limiting weight of the cars, etc. We spoil our space for living by these ugly generators so that lazy people may continue to over-eat in luxury.
    • No, we do it so spoiled brats can continue to charge the batteries on their over-indulgent toys.

      • by Max_W ( 812974 )
        Such huge towers with rotating pharaonic blades to air-condition ten thousand square meters private houses dwarfs the RC hobby both in energy scale and in the danger for manned aircraft.

        Modern architecture makes it possible to construct a comfortable house where only about a hundred square meters are air-conditioned (heated) and the rest are open areas, patio, etc.

        If it was enforced with the law we could keep the air space as it was created. It could be continued to be enjoyed by birds, aviators, hobb
  • Seriously, a good place to put these up for testing is on the east side of Lake Michigan. Loads of wind there. And a great deal easier to deal with than coastal areas.
  • It has to come from somewhere. So where does the energy comes from? The wind. So the wind is now 9 mph instead of 10. No biggie, but the wind where these things are not is still ten, creating vortices from the wind shear. Also shear between the artmosphere. the ocean will affect the currents, causinfg changes in the ocean ecology.

    On a small scale windmils may work fine, but once you stqart ramping up to the point of provding electricity for a small town, then you are going to have a major effect on the we

    • As long as you are only affecting the weather, then no foul because, as the AGW crowd likes to loudly proclaim, weather is not climate.

  • Why are these turbines sticking up into the fickle air when they should be sticking down into continuous ocean currents like the Gulf stream?
  • That's beginning to approach the size of Trump's ego.

The person who can smile when something goes wrong has thought of someone to blame it on.

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