The other day at the WINDPOWER 2016 conference in New Orleans, Vestas Americas President Chris Brown delivered a superb speech entitled "Generation Wind – Building a Bridge to America's Clean Energy Future." Among Brown's main points were two important ones:
- Wind power in the U.S. is scaling up rapidly, in large part because of "driving down dollars per megawatt-hour" as a result of "technology advancement including longer rotors, taller towers, advanced controls, and product reliability";
- Wind power is also "scaling installations; 42 GWs over the last 5 years."
On that first point, David Roberts of Vox just posted on the cool new video about constructing the tallest wind power turbine in the United States. The reason for going tall is simple; as Roberts explains, "The higher you go, the stronger and steadier the wind gets and the more power you can generate." In this case, MidAmerican Energy is constructing a 379-foot-tall, 2.415-megawatt concrete wind tower at the company’s Adams wind farm in Adams County, Iowa.
That's tall, no question about it. But as David Roberts points out, wind towers in Europe "now routinely reach 120 to 140 meters (over 500 feet)," so there's plenty more room for even taller towers in the U.S. as well. The main obstacle, of all things, is transport, as the "giant cross sections of steel tower are getting so big that they can't be transported via interstate." A possible solution?
...engineers and designers have begun looking to concrete. The advantage of concrete towers, besides the fact that concrete is an extremely well-understood material with a well-developed industry behind it, is that they are modular. They come in smaller pieces, which can be transported via regular trucking and safely assembled on site.
...It's still a fairly new idea — only a few concrete wind towers are currently in operation — but as the drive to push turbines ever higher continues, it could take off.
The MidAmerican Energy turbine in Iowa is testing the concrete model. If it succeeds, there is little limit to how tall towers could get.
The bottom line is that wind power is already cheap (less expensive than fossil fuels in Texas, for instance), and is almost certain to get a lot cheaper, due to both industry scaling and technology improvements, like the one shown in the MidAmerican Energy video. Which means that Chris Brown's already-realistic vision of wind forming one of the key building blocks of the "Bridge to America's Clean Energy Future" will only get more achievable going forward.