By BarsMonster

2011-06-17 09:33:22 8 Comments

Why commercial wind generators usually have just 2-3 blades?

Having more blades would allow to increase power OR decrease diameter. Decreased diameter would also reduce stress due to different wind speed on different height...

But despite that commercial generators have few blades...


@410 gone 2011-06-17 13:09:29

More blades give you more cost, but very little increase in efficiency.

Three blades turns out to be the optimum.

With four or more blades, costs are higher, with insufficient extra efficiency to compensate. This is more expensive per unit electricity generated, if you go for more, but shorter, blades: if you have 4 shorter blades (rather than three longer ones), the blades are sweeping through a smaller volume of air (i.e. an amount of air with a lot less energy), swept area being proportional to the square of the radius. And the efficiency is only a few percent higher.

You get higher mechanical reliability with three blades than with two: with two blades, the shadowing effect of tower & blade puts a lot of strain on the bearings. So although it costs more to make a three-bladed turbine, they tend to have a longer life, lower maintenance needs, and thus on balance reduce the unit cost of electricity generated, as the increased availability and reduced maintenance costs outweigh the extra cost of the third blade.

For the nitty-gritty of wind-turbine aerodynamics, wikipedia isn't a bad place to start:

@BarsMonster 2011-06-17 13:33:28

Hmm... So if we have 4 smaller blades, it is going to be more expensive than 3 bigger ones?

@410 gone 2011-06-17 14:48:28

Yes. Thanks for the prompt - I've updated my answer accordingly.

@Omega Centauri 2011-06-17 16:16:17

One thing that helps explain the counterintuitive result: the blade tips are moving at a multiple of the wind speed, so three blades really does sample a decent fraction of the wind flow through the swept area.

@BarsMonster 2011-06-18 22:54:01

@Omega, I see, this makes sence now. Increasing number of blades would allow to just decrease rotation speed with the same power => lower drag, and that's it. Now it's clear.

@BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft 2015-07-06 00:01:25

"if you have 4 shorter blades (rather than three longer ones).." - Why would the blades need to be shorter? If an extra blade increased efficiency by even a small amount, it might be worth it when you consider the cost of the entire rest of the structure...

@410 gone 2015-07-06 00:31:33

@BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft that was added in response to BarsMonster's first comment. Four longer blades add a lot of cost, without significant yield increase, because three blades already capture the available energy in the swept area. More blades just increase the torque, which is useful for milling, but not for generating electricity.

@Matt Wilko 2011-06-17 14:00:25

"If a turbine has an efficiency of 50 percent, the theoretical power output is found by multiplying the square of the turbine radius by the cube of the wind speed"

Read more: Wind Turbine Capacity Factors |

So you will want to create the largest radius but keep the weight to a minimum (so that it will actually start to turn in less than 100mph wind) so lighter design is the key hence fewer blades

@BarsMonster 2011-06-17 14:48:40

I believe number of blades should also be in this formula. It is hard to expect that theoretically 4 blade turbine would not be able to deliver double what 2 blade one can. So for the same power one may need 30% smaller diameter. Blade weight reduces roughly(i believe) as a cube of it's length, so 4 blades with 30% less diameter should weight 70% of what 2 bigger blades weight.

@Willie Wong 2011-06-17 16:19:06

I don't think blade weight can reduce as cube of its length. Factoring in issues like mechanical stress and maintaining similar "area per length" for the wind to push on, I would guess the blade weight to scale somewhere between linear and quadratic in length. So I don't really think you can count on there being much gain from weight reduction.

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