Alternative technology company AMSC announced this week that it has signed a contract with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to investigate and assess the economics of a 10 MW “high temperature superconductor” wind turbine.

The company’s website says that it is already developing full 10MW wind turbine component and system designs. The contract for the research will allow the full cost of the turbines to be established and is expected to speed up commercial viability.

Wind turbines have been rapidly increasing in size over the last 20 years (in terms of physical size and energy output) with a typical turbine today having a 3MW capacity generator. The further growth of wind turbines is however restricted in part due to the size and weight of the generator and construction issues surrounding raising the components over 80 metres in the air.

The new 10 MW turbines will utilise “superconductor technology” including a direct drive generator and lighter components allowing the wind turbine to operate more efficiently, carrying greater amounts of power safely and reliably.

AMSC says the new turbine will leverage “superconductivity’s high power density and enhanced electrical efficiency… rotating machines that incorporate AMSC’s High Temperature Superconductors (HTS) wire can be as little as one-third the weight and half the size of comparably powered traditional alternatives. Reducing their size and weight frees valuable real estate that often can be turned into additional revenue generation or amenities.

Furthermore it is claimed that HTS rotating machines “typically exhibit as little as half the electrical losses of a conventional machine when at full power“.

The use of high temperature superconductors are expected by both parties to lower the overall cost of wind energy in the US. However in the UK one of the key constraints in areas of high wind speed – particularly in Scotland and Wales is road access for blade delivery. Turbine blade lengths are now typically 45 metres plus and it is likely that many areas of the UK with good wind resource will not have suitable access to accommodate any further increases in turbine generator size (due to the required blade size). Solutions such as two -part turbine blades could open up these potential sites, although the UK is a relatively small market and manufacturers currently do not seem to be prioritising such technology.

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