HENRIK STIESDAL and Andrew Garrad have been awarded the 2024 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) for their pioneering work designing and optimising wind turbines.
The award is given each year to celebrate engineers whose work has been of global benefit to society. The winners, whose work has led to the increase in the size of turbines and their extensive use in the production of clean energy, were announced at a ceremony held in London yesterday evening. Stiesdal and Garrad will split the £500,000 prize (US$631,000).
Initially designed in 1978, Stiesdal pioneered the three-bladed turbine on a horizontal axis – known as the Danish concept – which Vestas bought and has since catalysed the modern wind industry we see today. His subsequent contributions allowed manufacturers to produce much larger wind turbines and put them to sea. He was CTO at Bonus Energy which built the first offshore wind farm in Denmark in 1991 and pioneered techniques to cast turbine blades in one piece.
Garrad, meanwhile, developed the Bladed software that is used by engineers to simulate turbine systems. This enables engineers to model their designs and gives investors and authorities the confidence to build wind farms. He co-founded the consultancy Garrad Hassan that offered design services and technical due diligence to project developers and manufacturers. Following a series of mergers, the software is now owned by DNV GL, which Garrad retired from in 2016.
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.”
Stiesdal said: “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.”
In the past few decades wind power has grown significantly, both in terms of the physical size of the turbines and the number being installed around the world.
The average hub height of offshore turbines – that’s the column that supports the spinning blades – has increased from around 75m in 2001 to more than 115m in 2022. In the same period, the diameter of the rotating blades has more than doubled to around 175m, and the generating capacity has almost quadrupled to 8 MW. Meanwhile, installed capacity has increased from 7.5 GW in 1997 to almost 900 GW in 2022.
Dame Lynn Gladden, chair of the judges for the QEPrize and a Fellow of IChemE, 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.”
The QEPrize was first launched in 2013 and touted as the missing Nobel Prize for Engineering. Previous winners include MIT chemical engineer Bob Langer whose work developing controlled release of drugs has transformed the lives of billions of people.
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