Todd Griffith shows a cross-section of a 50-meter blade. (Randy Montoya)

A new design for gigantic blades longer than two football fields could help bring offshore 50-megawatt (MW) wind turbines to the United States and the world. Sandia National Laboratories designed a low-cost, offshore, 50-MW turbine requiring a rotor blade more than 650 feet long, two and a half times longer than any existing wind blade. Most current U.S. wind turbines produce power in the 1- to 2-MW range, with blades about 165 feet long.

The new blades could be more easily and cost effectively manufactured in segments, avoiding the unprecedented-scale equipment needed for transport and assembly of blades built as single units. The turbines would be sited downwind, unlike conventional turbines that are configured with the rotor blades upwind of the tower. Segmented turbine blades have a significant advantage in parts of the world at risk for severe storms, such as hurricanes, where offshore turbines must withstand tremendous wind speeds over 200 mph.