Ambitious UVA-Led Wind Energy Team, Powered by $6.1 Million in Grants, Partners with GE Global Research Center on Giant Wind Turbines

An ambitious, UVA-led wind turbine team seeks to build a wind turbine that is 300 meters tall yet can handle the gale force of an offshore hurricane. If successful, the revolutionary extreme-scale wind turbine would provide 25 MW of energy — five times the energy output of a conventional turbine — and not only make offshore wind more viable, but would also help to achieve the U.S. Department of Energy’s goal of converting the nation’s energy usage to 20 percent wind by 2030.

The team has designed a 20-percent scale, 10-story-tall demonstrator model now being tested at the National Wind Technology Center in Golden, Colo., supported by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy. In October 2019, this project partnered with General Electric to investigate a “segmented outboard articulating rotor” that will explore a lower-cost modular assembly and the addition of outboard flaps on the rotor blades. 

The total support from the Department of Energy for the project is $6.1 million.

UVA mechanical and aerospace Ph.D. candidate Meghan Kaminski plays a key role on the project. Using specialized software, Meghan is in charge of making sure the demonstrator model is designed and built in such a way that it will behave just like a much larger turbine if the model were scaled up. This capability is no small feat and is the linchpin for developing the extreme-scale turbine.

“Most researchers use only one parameter to develop scale models, but we use several at once. We input mass, stiffness and aerodynamic formulas, plus calculate the interactivity of all of these, to ensure the smaller turbine reacts the same way as the full-scale turbine,” Kaminski said.

And, if building an extreme-scale wind turbine wasn’t enough, the partnership with GE aims to achieve a walloping 25 percent cost savings, as compared to other energy sources, by incorporating techno-economic analyses throughout the project.

“If realized, this technology will be the world’s largest and most cost-effective offshore wind turbine. This represents a unique opportunity to translate break-through renewable energy technology to market,” said Eric Loth, project lead, Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Professor and chair of the UVA Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Kaminski’s advisor.