Despite the recent fall in oil prices, fulfilling long-term energy needs will likely still require developing alternate sources. The wind energy industry is one that continues to grow and holds significant promise. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), there are now over 46,000 turbines in the US, double the number from 2009. AWEA also says that over that same period of time, 31% of the new energy generating capacity in the US has come from wind power with an annual investment topping $15 billion.
The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) reports that wind power now drives 318 gigawatts of energy and nearly 4% of US energy needs, up from 1% in 2009. The US Department of Energy estimates that 20% of US electricity could come from the existing wind industry infrastructure.
Clearly, wind power is here to stay, and the challenge is on to make it more efficient and cost effective. CAD (computer-aided design) and CAE (computer-aided engineering) are playing a big part in making that happen. Here are four areas where CAD design is helping to advance wind energy.
1. Offshore Challenges
To get the most benefit, turbines need to be located where wind is most plentiful. In most cases, that happens to be in the ocean where the majority of wind farms are now being built. Harsh ocean conditions contain multiple challenges, many of which can be addressed in the design phase using CAD/CAE.
Securing turbine platforms to the ocean floor and building them to withstand the effects of tides, waves, currents and high winds can pose particular difficulties. Using advanced CAD/CAE software allows engineers to work out many of these problems before construction even begins. This streamlines the overall time line of the project and ensures the long-term viability of these structures even before the first equipment is sent out to the platform.
2. Innovative Designs
First generation turbines featured standard blade designs as part of every installation. Thanks to CAD, turbines today are being designed to operate more efficiently. Innovative designs enable wind towers to reactively adjust to catch wind at appropriate angles to maximize power and to compensate for sudden shifts in wind patters. Integrating these improvements increases effectiveness and lowers overall costs – two crucial elements in moving the technology forward.
3. Combining Design and Simulation
As the technology develops, turbine designs need to be constantly improved to maximize utilization. With CAD, designers are now able to not only review various manufacturing configurations, but they are also able to simulate the results of their designs. This type of testing early in the process uncovers potential design errors, accelerates the project schedule, and reduces overall costs.
4. Improved Data Management
Big data is pervading every aspect of business and the wind energy industry is no exception. Today’s turbines are capable of collecting minute data, but parsing that into actionable information can sometimes be difficult. Integrating CAD and Product Data Management (PDM) software is helping to overcome this challenge. Incorporating the massive amount of data coming from large wind farms can be invaluable when making decisions about future design revisions.
CAD/CAE design will continue to have a major impact on the wind energy technology industry and will go a long way toward meeting the economic and engineering challenges of this rapidly growing manufacturing sector.