When it comes to wind turbines, bigger is generally better. Longer blades equate to greater power production, and taller structures are cheaper to construct and maintain than several smaller ones with the same output. That’s why turbines have been growing steadily in the last 20 years: from minnows the size of Dutch windmills, to modern engineering feats half the height of the Empire State Building.
The latest milestone comes from the U.K., which is investing heavily in offshore wind, and has the most capacity in the world. A British company, called Blade Dynamics, recently announced it was developing blades of up to 100 meters in length (that’s more than 300 feet)—dwarfing the size of existing technology in the 60-meter range. Sitting on top of a tower 170 meters high, the structure will be 270 meters in all, or 885 feet. That’s about one-sixth of a mile.
Blade Dynamics has received funding from a public-private partnership called the Energy Technologies Institute, which is backed by European utilities and energy companies like BP and Shell. The U.K. wants to cut the cost of wind from about $210 per megawatt-hour currently to $161 by 2020, and sees bigger turbines as one way to do that.
The blades are modular and incredibly long. Blade Dynamics will construct them in 12-meter pieces and then assemble them on-site. That should also help cut costs, as transporting large one-piece structures to remote regions tends to be expensive. Blade Dynamics says it could save about $13 per megawatt hour.
The U.K. currently has 2,679 megawatts of offshore capacity, with developers proposing a staggering 46,000 megawatts (not all of this will get built). In total, the U.K. wants to see 18,000 MW by the end of the decade. If it gets there—and at a price that competes with natural gas—turbine size will have something to do with it.