Alumni Association

University of Colorado Boulder

Reaping the wind

Wind power? Big deal.Really, really big deal, in fact.

Consider that scientists are now pondering construction of leviathan, 20-megawatt wind turbines some 190 meters high — basically two football fields — with swooping 125-meter rotor blades.

Today, installed wind turbines have a capacity to produce about 42,000 megawatts of power in the United States, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [NREL] — enough to power some 12 million homes.

But even today’s giant turbines — already over 100 meters high at hub height, with 60-meter blades — require continuing adjustments to respond to the ever-changing wind conditions to work at maximum efficiency.

That’s where CU-Boulder professor Lucy Pao of electrical and computer engineering comes in. Pao is developing technology that can detect shifts in wind speed to reduce excessive loads on
massive turbines.

“If we know the wind speeds that are going to hit [the blades] a couple seconds from now, we can start to use better control to reduce loads on the turbine,” Pao says. “If we can see a gust coming and anticipate turbulent conditions, we can start pitching the blades,” thereby reducing loads, stress and ultimately, the cost of maintenance.

Read the rest at the Coloradan online.

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