Despite various design improvements, today's wind turbines look about the same as those from 30 years ago. A new proposal from GE could change that, replacing the traditional cast fiberglass blades with technology that would seem familiar to a World War I fighter pilot.
The blades are shaped similarly to current rigid blades, but use a special type of architectural fabric stretched over an aluminum frame. The big plus is that they can be assembled on site, reducing manufacturing and transportation costs.
GE claims that the blades will cost 25 to 40 percent less to build than a fiberglass equivalent, making the price of wind energy more competitive with fossil fuels. Their lighter weight also means that blades can be made longer without risk of catastrophic failure, further increasing efficiency.
GE is applying for a grant to further develop the technology from the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E).