Sandia has decades of experience developing and improving wind-turbine technology. It performed extensive R&D on vertical-axis wind turbines in the 1970s and 80s.

Sandia National Laboratories is gearing up a recently launched project to test a range of ultra-large floating vertical-axis wind turbine (VAWT) designs, with the target of carving 20 percent out of the forecast cost of energy for deep-water installations.

The U.S. engineering and science research facility’s $5M offshore VAWT rotor project is exploring whether three key characteristics of vertical-axis machines—their low center of gravity, relative mechanical simplicity, and potential to be scaled up to nameplate ratings of 10–20 MW—could make them a better candidate than conventional three-bladed horizontal-axis (HAWT) designs in water depths of 50 meters or more.

Government-owned Sandia is concentrating its initial efforts on rotors, focusing on the Darrieus “egg beater” design and H- and V-shaped blade concepts, while other key technological components of offshore VAWTs, such as drivetrains, floating foundations, and mooring and anchoring solutions, are to be studied in follow-on research and development projects.

VAWTs are seen as solving a number of the central engineering challenges posed by trying to install HAWTs on floating foundations at sea, not least that the “ominidirectionality” of vertical-axis rotors means the turbine can harness wind from any direction without costly yaw or pitch systems.

Also, VAWTs make operation and maintenance more straightforward, as the drivetrain and generator are closer to foundation level and so more easily accessible.

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