Renewable energy: Anywhere the wind blows

By Rob Edwards PETER HOPE’S job is to break the blades of wind turbines. Standing in a huge shed on the coast of north-east England, he describes how he uses a set of heavy-duty winches to bend them until they snap with a loud bang. He tests the designs to breaking point to ensure they can withstand the wildest gales. Once he tugged the tip of a 42.5-metre blade 11 metres off its axis – bending it by 15 degrees – before it failed. “We’ve broken every blade we’ve tested,” he says Hope is head of one of the world’s most advanced turbine blade testing facilities, run by the UK New and Renewable Energy Centre (NaREC) in Blyth, near Newcastle. Next year he is looking forward to starting tests on what will be the longest blade yet made – a 75-metre monster being developed by the California wind power company Clipper, designed to generate 10 megawatts (MW) of electricity. After that, the blades are likely to get even bigger. The European Union is funding research into 20-MW machines, which could have 130-metre blades. In theory blades could be larger still but economic factors and the practical problems of construction and installation will come into play long before that limit is reached. The time and money being spent on wind power is perhaps not surprising when you consider that, based on global average annual wind speeds,
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