Siemens gets $4.1M grant to work on wind turbines

Federal energy officials announced plans Thursday to spend $43 million on dozens of offshore wind powerresearch projects that include efforts by Orlando-based Siemens Energy Inc. to improve wind turbine aerodynamics.

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the grants will pay for 41 research projects in 20 states, all designed to speed up the deployment and reduce the costs of operating wind turbines in lakes and coastal regions.

Siemens is slated for a grant of $4.1 million, which isn’t a huge sum on the scale of research, design and manufacturing costs for wind farm plants.

"Don’t get me wrong; we are extraordinarily pleased that DOE is supporting early-stage research," said Frank Bevc, Siemens Energy director of technology policy and research. "We’re looking at a product that’s maybe 10 years from now and a return on investment for a project 10 years out is kind of tough. So the partnership with DOE is something we very much value."

So far, European countries have embraced offshore turbines, while the U.S. has pursued wind energy only on land, where more than 20,000 turbines have been installed in about three dozen states.

"The U.S. has an abundant offshore wind resource that remains untapped," Chu said, adding that the federal financing will "enhance our energy security, and create new clean energy jobs." The awards are subject to Congressional appropriations.

Siemens is to receive one of the larger grants, getting slightly less than Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, to develop better aerodynamics for turbine blades in order to cut wind farm costs by 20 percent.

The company has 300 wind power employees based primarily in Orlando and at research facilities in Colorado. The future of offshore wind energy is huge, literally, as wind turbines are expected to be nearly 900 feet tall and dwarf turbines on land. Offshore wind turbines of the future also are expected to produce about 12 megawatts of electricity, or twice as much as large offshore units today.

Bevc said the reason for building such large units is to reduce the number of turbines required for a given amount of power, which will lessen maintenance costs during many years of operation.

Siemens and other companies already are striving to develop turbines that will effectively harness Florida’s coastal winds, which aren’t thought to be as strong or consistent as in other coastal regions.

Florida Power & Light Co. plans to install 200-foot meteorological towers in the coastal St. Lucie County to collect wind and atmospheric data for up to 18 months.

"What’s needed for Florida is more data collection on the characteristics of offshore wind," Bevc said. "Certainly there’s far, far greater potential offshore in Florida than onshore."

Kevin Spear,