Wind turbines with a rated power of 5 to 6 MW are now being designed and installed, mostly for offshore operation. Within the EU supported UpWind research project, the barriers for a further increase of size, up to 20 MW, are considered. These wind turbines are expected to have a rotor diameter up to 250 m and a hub height of more than 150 m. Initially, the theoretical implications of upscaling to such sizes on the weight and loads of the wind turbines are examined, where it is shown that unfavourable increases in weight and load will have to be addressed. Following that, empirical models of the increase in weight cost and loads as a function of scale are derived, based on historical trends. These include the effects of both scale and technology advancements, resulting in more favourable scaling laws, indicating that technology breakthroughs are prerequisites for further upscaling in a cost-efficient way. Finally, a theoretical framework for optimal design of large wind turbines is developed. This is based on a life cycle cost approach, with the introduction of generic models for the costs, as functions of the design parameters and using basic upscaling laws adjusted for technology improvement effects. The optimal concept or concepts is obtained as the one that minimizes the total expected costs per megawatt hour (levelized production costs). Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.