UK Firm to Develop Stealth Wind Turbine Blades

New blades would permit siting of wind farms without disrupting radar.

Published: 21-Aug-2003

ONG>[SolarAccess.com] QinetiQ, a UK-based public, private partnership has received funding from the government's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to proceed with a project to develop the what they say would be the world's first stealthy wind turbine blades.

Radar systems used for air traffic control, marine navigation, weather monitoring and by the Ministry of Defense can be affected by unwanted reflections from wind turbines. By modifying the composition of glass fiber reinforced polymer (GFRP) blades, which can be some 50 meters or more in length, blades can be made to absorb radar signals without compromising their structural strength. In turn, the technology reduces, or can remove altogether, spurious signals received by radars. Using DTI funding matched by venture capital from QinetiQ and NOI Scotland Limited, a UK-based manufacturer of wind turbine blades, the project will develop absorbing blade materials to counter the range of frequencies over which various radar systems operate. It will also use sophisticated computer modeling tools, developed in recent years by QinetiQ, to predict the impact of these new, stealthy wind turbines.

Despite being one of the world's windiest nations, UK is only eighth in terms of accumulative installed wind turbine capacity in 2002, with 570 MW on stream, in comparison with Germany (12,000), USA (4,700), Spain (5,000) and Denmark (2,900).

The UK has had a particular problem with public acceptance and approvals for onshore sites. According to the British Wind Energy Association, which represents the interests of the wind energy industry in the UK, in 2002 more than 25 percent of all proposals for windfarm developments were the subject of objections from radar operators.

The DTI takes this issue seriously and has already funded a study, now completed, in which radar scientists from QinetiQ predicted the levels and types of interactions between windfarms and radar systems. This study showed that radar effects could be mitigated through one or a combination of careful windfarm design, software fixes for the radar systems and the use of stealthy turbine blades.

"This is an excellent example of how the results of military research can be exploited for civil gain," said Steve Appleton, the QinetiQ technical leader of the new DTI project.

With the UK becoming increasingly reliant on imported energy sources, Energy minister Stephen Timms and others have acknowledged that a huge effort will be needed if the UK is to successfully tackle climate change. The UK Government is currently driving toward a commitment of 10 percent of Britain's power generated by renewables by 2010, and with goals to double that figure by 2020, the stealthy blade development project could prove to be a tremendous boost to wind power technology and the Government's goals of sustainable renewable energy.

QinetiQ will be working on the blade modifications with Kirkcaldy-based NOI Scotland Ltd. Originally founded in Germany in 1999, NOI Scotland Limited is now targeting the British market with their wind turbine blades. Their resin-infusion manufacturing process is highly suitable for producing the larger blades required for offshore wind turbines generating two MW or more.

"The news that QinetiQ has received funding from the DTI to proceed with a project to develop the World's first stealthy wind turbine blades is a heartening reminder that the Government is determined to realise its vision for the development of wind farms in this country," said Ian locker, QinetiQ's manager for renewable markets.

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