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Super-size it! Bigger wind turbines make greener electricity


June 20, 2012
By Anthony Capkun

June 20, 2012 – In a study that could solidify the trend toward constructing gigantic windmills, scientists have concluded that the larger the wind turbine, the greener the electricity it produces.

Marloes Caduff and colleagues point out that wind power is an increasingly popular source of electricity, providing almost 2% of global electricity worldwide (expected to approach 10% by 2020). The size of the turbines is also increasing. One study shows the average size of commercial turbines has grown 10-fold in the last 30 years, from diameters of 50 feet in 1980 to nearly 500 feet today. On the horizon: super-giant turbines approaching 1000 feet in diameter.

The authors wanted to determine whether building larger turbines makes wind energy more or less environmentally friendly.

Their study shows that bigger turbines do, in fact, produce greener electricity for two main reasons. First, manufacturers now have the knowledge, experience and technology to build big wind turbines with great efficiency. Second, advanced materials and designs permit the efficient construction of large turbine blades that harness more wind without proportional increases in their mass or the masses of the tower and the nacelle that houses the generator. That means more clean power without large increases in the amount of material needed for construction or fuel needed for transportation.