Transportation challenge grows as turbine blades get bigger

Source: By James Osborne, Houston Chronicle • Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2016

Wind turbine blades continue to grow — turbines are now more than 200 feet tall — and officials are having trouble transporting equipment to remote locations in Texas and other windy Western states.

Moving the blades, which reach higher into the sky and wrest more energy from the wind than ever before, can take days and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

A team of scientists from the Department of Energy, engineering giant General Electric Co., and a small Austin, Texas-area firm, Wetzel Engineering Inc., are searching for a more efficient production and transportation method.

“Many people thought [100 feet] was the largest we were going to get, except we always find a way to get around it,” said Derek Berry, an engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

“The ultimate measure of how competitive we are is our cost of energy. But at some point, there is a limit where transportation and maintenance costs, plus other areas, outweigh the gains in efficiency.”

While turbine blades are traditionally manufactured as one piece, developers are hopeful that soon these blades will be made in multiple pieces that can be assembled on site.

Multiple parts, however, require multiple joints. And the more joints there are, the weaker the structure is, according to Berry.

“It’s not the big storm you worry about. It’s the constant cyclical nature of fatigue loads over many, many years,” he said