September 2016 issue: A Better Way To Inspect Turbines & Transmission + more

01 Editorial:
More darn-near impossible grand challenges for the wind industry

06 Windwatch:
Research in Minnesota, MAKE Consulting looks ahead, Better blades ready for refits, Meet the wind tech

26 Retrofits
New ideas for upgrading communication networks


The next 10 darn-near impossible grand challenges for the wind industry


The idea of grand challenges came from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the 1980s. The challenges are stretch goals or difficult tasks that if accomplished would propel an entire industry forward. DARPA funds what appear as wacky ideas that could be useful to U.S. military forces. One recent Agency idea is a device to make things invisible, such as tank or soldier. Cool if possible. President Kennedy’s proposal to put a man on the moon was certainly a grand challenge that energized the space race. You get the idea.

This column has explored the idea of grand challenges for the wind industry once before in 2012. Three years later, the industry had hit three challenges. Four challenges were near hits, and three are still unmet. One challenge, active surfaces for more precise control, has been meet by Frontier Wind’s Gustbuster blade tabs. Sadly, Boulder Wind, the company that met another challenge by devising a lightweight, direct-drive generator has since closed its doors.

The time has come to revisit the grand-challenge idea and replenish the list. But this time, rather than rely on my own idle mind, I have enlisted the imagination of two talented people: Senior Editor Michelle Froese and CMS expert and contributor David Clark. He suggested defining challenges for OEMs and the O&M community. Good idea. So we pose this set of grand challenges for the OEM
community. We’ll get to the maintenance industry later.

So without further fanfare, here in ascending order are the 2016 Windpower Engineering & Development Wind Industry OEM Grand Challenges:

10. Make condition monitoring standard for every turbine. The only way to knock down maintenance costs is with predictive maintenance and CMS is key.

9. Self-erecting towers or turbines. We’ll take either.

8. The 10-MW land-based turbine. This development may depend on at least a 90m blade. The longest in the world, 88.4m, will go on an 8-MW turbine, but might work on a 10- MW design.

7. Lightning hit identifier. Which turbine blades have holes in them thanks to the last thunderstorm? Who knows?

6. A light weight, direct-drive generator that could eliminate the need for gearboxes.

5. Blades that will survive 20 years of operations.

4. Gearboxes capable of working 20 years without major repair. By one estimate, a gearbox costs up to $500,000 to replace. Trimming two replacements could make each turbine $1 million more profitable. Aerotorque’s torque limiter is a step in the right direction.

3. Smarter turbine controls, those that “know” what ails the turbine and tells an O&M crew so it need not waste time troubleshooting. Even better, controls that fix or detune the turbine to keep working till help arrives.

Paul Dvorak2. Less costly, high-capacity energy storage, capable of many megawatt-hours.

1. Less expensive and mass producible superconducting cable conductors. (Same as last time) Such cables would allow the transmission of power with little loss to load centers many miles from the wind farm. Wind assets would not sit idle as they sometimes do in the northwest because of a lack of local demand. ABB’s high-voltage dc is a step in the right direction.

If you know of a company that has genuinely met one of these challenges, they have been keeping secrets. Tell us about them. OK?

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