Grand challenges are descriptions of significant or potentially transformational developments that focus an industry’s effort on worthy problems. Meeting a challenge lets the industry progress more quickly to the benefit of all. A little internet research seems to point to the computer industry having the first in the 1950s, shortly after the commercial debut of computing machines. Defining grand challenges for the computing industry moved it along nicely. Since then, the medical industry, DARPA, and others disciplines have defined their ideas of grand challenges. Many industries except that for wind…until now.
The germ for this idea was planted during a recent conversation with a colleague at Sandia National Lab, when the discussion considered the possibility of limits to turbine size. My colleague suggested not even suggesting limits because soon after defining a limit, like tweaking the nose of fate, someone would break the “barrier.” But what a great idea. Here’s a way to bend the rules of the universe to our advantage: declare something significant and of great use, but almost undoable, then sit back and wait for the announcement of its accomplishment. Engineering teams usually win praise and huge monetary prizes for passing each milestone. Not this time. (Maybe we’ll get successful teams a plaque. I don’t know. I’ll talk to the boss.) All we can offer is recognition on these pages and two months of fame. (We publish six times each year.)
Because this is the work of one idle mind, it would be interesting to see what grand challenge you would add or omit, or how you might reorder the list. So without additional fanfare, Windpower Engineering & Development presents the Wind Industry’s 10 Darn-Near-Impossible Grand Challenges.
10. More efficient high-voltage equipment. Even a 0.5% improvement can save thousands.
9. A manufacturable 10 MW, land based, wind turbine. Offshore turbines will be twice the cost of land based units and besides, the U.S. has plenty of untapped land.
8. A turbine design that produces power at a rate lower than that generated by natural gas. This would allow dispensing with a Production Tax Credit and other government grants. Wind critics would have to pay homage to such an awesome industry.
7. A gearbox capable of handling variable wind loads for 20 years with minimal maintenance.
6. A lighter weight, 5-MW generator capable of direct drive and scalable to 10+ MW.
5. A cost-effective battery capable of MWh performance.
4. Materials that would allow longer, lighter blades and give them a 20 year life.
3. Self-erecting towers capable of 130m.
2. Active surfaces for more precise blade control. Independent pitch control requires near constant adjustments to a large mass with each rotation. Flaps, tabs, or some other method would be advantageous.
1. Less expensive and mass produced superconducting materials. Cables made of such material would allow transmitting power from coast to coast without the losses of conventional cables. A national grid would make best use of wind power which often comes from far away farms. Wind assets would not sit idle as they sometimes do in the northwest because of a lack of local demand.
Filed Under: Policy