Wind turbine technology developers win Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

7th February 2024
Paige West

The 2024 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) was awarded to Henrik Stiesdal from Denmark and Andrew Garrad CBE FREng from Britain for their significant contributions to the development, manufacturing, and deployment of high-performance wind turbines.

These advancements have significantly boosted wind energy's contribution to global electricity generation and have had a transformative effect on diversifying the global energy mix.

The QEPrize, which is awarded annually, recognises engineers whose groundbreaking innovations have globally benefited humanity. Celebrating its second decade as the premier international award for engineering achievements, the 2024 QEPrize Laureates were revealed by Lord Browne of Madingley, Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation, at a ceremony held at the Science Museum, attended by HRH The Princess Royal, Royal Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

For over four decades, Stiesdal and Garrad have provided pivotal engineering innovations that have led to a dramatic increase in the size of wind turbines and the scale of wind farms, enhancing their engineering and economic performance. Recognised for their early technological breakthroughs and critical advancements as the industry has evolved, the 2024 Laureates have each introduced a system found in nearly all modern wind turbines in operation across onshore and offshore markets today.

Henrik Stiesdal is acknowledged for designing a three-blade turbine in 1978, embodying what is often referred to as the Danish concept. His significant contributions during the 1990s in proprietary blade manufacturing technology have notably increased the scale and efficiency of modern turbines. Stiesdal's innovations include the development of wind turbine blades cast as a single piece and direct-drive generators for offshore wind turbines, removing the need for gearboxes.

Andrew Garrad has been instrumental in creating the BLADED computational design tool, which allows engineers to comprehensively model turbine systems and predict their performance accurately, facilitating the production of these large-scale machines. This tool has seen global application and, through the consultancy company Garrad co-founded, has supported the industry's rapid growth through design consultancy, testing, measurements, energy evaluation, and technical due diligence, significantly expanding the global manufacturing base. Garrad's analytical approach to assessing wind farm yields has also enabled widespread project finance by providing thorough risk assessments for potential wind farm investments.

The International Energy Agency highlights wind as having one of the highest potentials for increasing countries' renewable capacity. Predictions suggest that solar PV and wind energy additions will more than double by 2028, accounting for an unprecedented 96% of the total renewable power capacity expansion due to improved cost competitiveness.

In December of the previous year, wind power contributed 41.2% to the UK's energy mix, marking its highest level ever, while gas-fired generation dropped to its lowest share in four years.

The remarkable advancements in wind turbine technology made by the 2024 QEPrize laureates have significantly lowered the costs and increased the availability and scalability of wind power generation. These developments are crucial for meeting global energy demands and transitioning to a zero-emissions electricity system.

Henrik Stiesdal said: “It is an honour to receive the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering alongside Andrew. To me, it represents much more than personal recognition; it is a tribute to the collective efforts of pioneers and engineers in wind power. Since the late 1970s they embodied the essence of this Prize, creating bold, groundbreaking innovations delivering sustainable and competitive energy, addressing climate change and providing global benefits for humanity. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to contribute to this development, and I look forward with eagerness to the future growth of wind power, driven by the dedication of new generations of engineers.”

Andrew Garrad said: “Wind energy has been with us for millennia, but in the last 50 years, it entered a new era. The 10m diameter turbines of my early professional life have become the 250m giants of today – simply amazing! What could possibly be more exciting for an engineer? I count myself as extraordinarily lucky to have been part of that transition. To be awarded the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a wonderful bonus to an already fascinating career. I am personally, immensely proud, but Henrik and I see ourselves as representatives of a much bigger group of people who have made wind energy an essential part of our zero-carbon future and we have, all of us together, earned this Prize.”

Lord Browne of Madingley FREng FRS, Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation said: "This year we applaud the ingenuity of Henrik Stiesdal and Andrew Garrad for advancing the design, manufacture and deployment of high-performance wind turbines. The technological advances they spearheaded are changing the world for the good on an enormous scale. I extend my heartfelt congratulations to Henrik and Andrew, who have propelled global progress towards a net zero future and have now taken their rightful place among the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Laureates.”

Professor Dame Lynn Gladden DBE FREng FRS, Chair of the Judges for the Queen Elizabeth Prize said: “This year’s winning innovation truly captures what the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering represents. Over the past four decades, Henrik Stiesdal and Andrew Garrad have advanced the design, manufacturing and deployment of wind turbines, enabling wind energy to fulfil a crucial role in today’s electricity generation mix. Their impact on the energy landscape showcases a commitment that resonates with the core values of engineering excellence, to problem-solve for a better society.”

Now in its eleventh year, QEPrize has honoured 24 engineers whose innovations have had a significant impact on billions of lives around the world. The 2024 Laureates, who share the £500,000 prize, will be formally honoured at the QEPrize Presentation Ceremony, where they will receive a unique trophy, designed by the 2024 Create the Trophy winner Sunil Thakkar, age 17, from India.

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