US offering $45 million for huge wind energy test bed

The DOE says such a facility is needed as the US has fallen behind other countries in the race to build ever-larger wind turbines.

On a day when one of the largest wind farm plans bit the dust, the US Department of Energy is offering up a five-year, $45 million contract to design and build a large dynamometer facility for testing 5 to 15 MW rated wind turbines and equipment.

The DOE says such a facility is needed as the US has fallen behind other countries in the race to build ever-larger wind turbines for energy production.  According to the DOE, the average size of wind turbines installed in the United States in 2007 increased to roughly 1.65 MW.  Additionally, turbines already developed range in the 2.5 MW to 3.5 MW capacity sizes; with plans being developed for even greater power ratings.  The larger wind turbines have outpaced the availability of US-based testing facilities, the DOE stated.

Recovery Act money is letting the DOE offer the contract which it said expects to award to a single company.

Additionally, the DOE said a large wind turbine drive train testing facility, which will feature an instrumented dynamometer test stand, will let the wind industry develop, test and validate large-scale wind turbine drive train systems domestically.  Drive train testing is required to demonstrate compliance with wind turbine design standards, reduce wind turbine costs, secure product financing, and reduce the technical and financial risk of deploying mass-produced wind turbine models. 

Construction and operation of the large dynamometer and test facility in the US will enable the identification and characterization of drive train design and manufacturing deficiencies for product improvement prior to commercial deployment, encourage domestic manufacturing and technology development, create jobs and result in overall improved product reliability.  The new testing capability will ultimately improve the country's competitiveness in wind energy technology, lower energy costs for consumers, and maintain a high trajectory of wind energy growth that contributes to the nation's renewable energy goals, the DOE stated.

The DOE said the facility will benefit purveyors of wind technology nationwide.  According to the DOE, the proposed facility can be new construction or involve the design and modification of an existing building suitable for electrical, mechanical, and other physical needs associated with a dynamometer test stand.  Overhead cranes, access doors, and other facility infrastructure suitable for accommodating associated components and equipment will be required.  It is envisioned that the facility will include sufficient office space for permanent staff and visiting users as well as conference rooms, lunch room, restrooms, computer stations, etc.  Applicants will be required to submit detailed multi-phase plans including concept designs, preliminary designs, engineering procurement and construction contract management, and operation and maintenance, the DOE stated.  

The DOE project comes on the same day one of the country's most ambitious wind farm proposals blew up. Billionaire T. Boone Pickens said he was suspending plans to build what he called the world's largest wind farm in Texas. , The New York Times reported that over the near term, Mr. Pickens instead plans to build three or four smaller wind farms, at a cost of some $2 billion. He said that he was unsure whether he would ever revive the giant wind project in the Texas that has been on the drawing board for years.

The NY Times went on to say Picken's struggles are symptomatic of a broader reversal of fortune for wind developers. This year, Emerging Energy Research, a consulting firm, expects a drop of nearly 25% in the amount of new wind power installed compared with last year.

The Government Accountability Office wasn't too high on the DOE's advanced energy programs in a report issued last year. The GAO said while the US Department of Energy has spent $57.5 billion over the past 30 years for research & development  on advanced energy technologies such as Ethanol, solar and wind power the nation's energy usage has not dramatically changed-fossil fuels today provide 85% of the nation's energy compared to 93% in 1973. 

Many technical, cost and environmental challenges must be overcome in developing and demonstrating advanced technologies before they can be deployed in the US with greater impact, the GAO stated.

For its part, the DOE has ambitious plans saying it expects wind to provide up to 20% of the nation's total electricity needs by 2030. 

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