Tinkering with Wind Turbine Blade Designs


Supported by a generous grant from one of the world’s leading electric-appliance manufacturers, researchers look for “advanced designs” for wind turbine blades. The search is on for a more durable, efficient, productive, relatively low-cost set of advanced blades.
The background and objective seem simple enough: Find a lightweight, durable wind generator blade design suitable for use in suburban residential settings.

Although wind-power experts long ago denounced and abandoned the whole idea of mounting a little windmill on every single American roof, encouraging village-sized wind farms instead, nevertheless the big corporations want a product for the consumer marketplace. Buy a refrigerator; get the matching wind generator half price might be the future advertisement.

Not surprisingly, the grant-givers want to develop wind turbine blades with the right aerodynamic properties to spin efficiently even in light winds, so that just about every North American home can generate enough power for energy-efficient appliances.

They just want the math to work-out properly. It is an easy concept but almost impossible project. No matter how ingeniously aerodynamic we make the wind turbine blades, it seems the blades just will not turn if the wind is too light. We cannot balance the equation-design of the wind turbine blades should balance with wind density, and we cannot quite get it. Air density gives the wind its push.

Advanced Materials for Wind Turbine Blades

Composite materials reduce the problems with ‘lightweight’ and ‘durable’, and they make it easier to get more spin from less wind. In some tests, teams have stretched composite wind turbine blades to three times the length of older models with no increase in weight, and some experiments have shown their designs not only can match but actually can exceed the wind’s speed. But it might be more horoscope than weather and design because we cannot consistently duplicate our results. We just cannot control or plan against all the variables.

Buildings and Beauties Do Not Quite Satisfy the Requirements

With the benefit of great hindsight, we see exactly where we went wrong. If developers had planned suburbs with as much respect for the sun’s and wind’s power as for profit potential, they easily could have expanded most American cities to maximize the possibilities for solar power. If the average house were turned about 45 degrees, we could attach towers to their chimneys, catching the best breezes for spinning our best wind turbine blades, because the prevailing winds would blow right along the roof ridges.”

It should also be pointed out how the 45 degree turn would maximize the roofs’ southern exposure, making solar panels or new solar-ceramic shingles exceptionally productive. We can imagine ways to pitch the roofs so that they would enhance her wind turbine blades’ speed and productivity. But developers built these homes in the late fifties and early sixties when people imagined fossil fuels would last until ‘safe’ nuclear power could take over.