The wind power industry is abuzz with the missing link that could bring offshore 50-megawatt (MW) wind turbines to the United States and, rest assured, this time it won’t be overlooked. The secret to successful wind power? Just go bigger. Massive, 650-foot-long rotor blades promise to transform offshore wind energy in the US with a design that is cost-effective and modular.  The enormous blades, designed after the natural movement of palm trees in a storm, are currently under development and could hit the market soon.

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Research is underway at Sandia National Laboratories, developing the enormous Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotor (SUMR) in a project funded by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program. The 650-foot (200-meter) rotor blade that will capture wind energy for a 50MW offshore turbine is two and a half times longer than other existing wind blades.

Related: 144,000 offshore wind turbines could power the entire East coast of the United States

Todd Griffith, lead blade designer on the project and technical lead for Sandia’s Offshore Wind Energy Program has been working on giant turbines for some time. His previous project involved a 328-foot (100-meter) rotor blade on a turbine with a 13MW capacity. The initial SUMR designs were based on that system, but scaled up considerably. The new, 50MW design is many times over as large as most existing offshore wind turbines in America, which produce power in the one to two MW range, with blades about 165 feet (50 meters) long.

The research team is led by the University of Virginia and includes Sandia and researchers from the University of Illinois, the University of Colorado, the Colorado School of Mines and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Corporate advisory partners include Dominion Resources,General Electric Co., Siemens AG and Vestas Wind Systems.

The 650-foot SUMR rotor blades have many years of testing ahead, but Griffith thinks generating more wind power with larger turbines will help the U.S. reach its 2030 goal of supplying 20 percent of the nation’s power from wind.


Images via Randy Montoya and Science