Public-Private Clean Energy Innovation at Work: The Massachusetts Wind Technology Testing Center

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Many clean energy advocates focus primarily on “deployment, deployment, deployment.” Yet a recent development in Massachusetts provides a reminder that there’s much more to clean energy technology commercialization than flat subsidies for production. Last week, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), a state agency dedicated to clean energy industry development, officially opened the Wind Technology Testing Center(WTTC) in Boston Harbor. The WTTC, which will work with manufacturers to test large turbine blades to facilitate commercialization, is a joint project of the state of Massachusetts, the Department of Energy, and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), and received major funding through the Recovery Act.

 

The center is capable of testing turbine blades up to 90 meters, which makes it the first such testing facility in the U.S. and the largest in the world. Previously, according to the Department of Energy, blades larger than 50 meters could only be tested in Europe. Some additional details from MassCEC (also see the Governor’s Office Flickr feed, as well as the New England Clean Energy Council’s photos, of the impressive facility):

When completed the WTTC will provide three test stands and 100 tons overhead bridge crane capacity and a full suite of certification tests for turbine blades up to 90m in length, including static and fatigue testing, blade material testing, dual axis static or fatigue testing, and quality testing. In addition as part of its effort to help the wind industry deploy the next generation of onshore and offshore wind turbine technologies, the WTTC will offer the latest wind turbine blade testing and prototype development methodologies, research and development partnerships, blade repair capabilities and hands-on workforce training.

 

The WTTC will provide certification tests for new blade designs and reliability testing for existing blade designs for wind turbine manufacturers. Each test is conducted on a single turbine blade. A full endurance (fatigue) test takes three to four months to complete while a static (ultimate strength and resonance) test takes one to two weeks. The facility will be able to test three blades at a time.

Private industry will provide funding in exchange for new product testing at the WTTC, as they do for similar testing and other R&D workat NREL.

 

Why does this matter? A major goal of technological development and commercialization is risk reduction, to enable technologies to cross the fabled valleys of death. One way to reduce risk is to devise stringent performance standardsfor new technical and equipment, and then subject new technologies to rigorous testing to ensure they meet those standards. This can drive performance upgrades while also ensuring for buyers that commercialized technology is of adequate quality. In Denmark, performance standards and certification were key tools in driving improvements, and their wind industry is now a world leader.

 

This sort of work—testing new models of wind technologies to expand the technical information base during commercialization—is already undertaken by NREL, but their facilities limit testing to blades of only 50 meters. This is important, because larger turbines tend to be correlated with efficiency and capacity increases and thus cost declines, and will likely be particularly useful offshore (it’s also not a coincidence that the new center is in Boston, not far from the region’s excellent offshore resources). Larger blade size is not the only developmental trajectory for future generations of turbine, but they are an important one. So ensuring the availability of adequate public-private testing facilities located near potential markets and clusters is a good way to facilitate continued technical change and innovation in the wind sector as turbine manufacturers continue their push for cost-competitiveness with fossil fuels.

(Photo credit: Matt Bennett/MA Governor’s Office)

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