By Chris Baraniuk
Technology of Business reporter
Huge wind turbines are pushing the limits of what ports and installation vessels can handle.
Next year, Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas will put up a gargantuan prototype – a 15-megawatt (MW) wind turbine that will be powerful enough to provide electricity to roughly 13,000 British homes.
It will be the biggest such turbine in the world, though potentially not for long. Wind turbines just keep getting bigger – and it’s happening faster than almost anybody predicted.
Chinese firm, MingYang, recently announced plans for an even more powerful device clocking in at 16MW, for example. Just four years ago, the maximum capacity of an offshore turbine was 8MW.
“It’s happening quicker than we would wish, in a sense,” says Aurélie Nasse, head of offshore product market strategy at Vestas. The firm is one of a handful that have led the development of super-sized turbines – but headaches associated with building ever larger machines are beginning to emerge.
“We need to make sure it’s a sustainable race for everyone in the industry,” says Ms Nasse, as she points out the need for larger harbours, and the necessary equipment and installation vessels required to bring today’s huge turbine components offshore.
Then there’s the hefty investments required to get to that point. “If you look at the financial results of the [manufacturers], basically none of us make money anymore,” explains Ms Nasse. “That’s a big risk.”
Yet the wind industry’s willingness to push limits is one of its greatest strengths, she adds. A double-edged sword, or turbine blade, if you will. And there are few signs that the race to 20MW turbines and beyond is about to slow down.
“It’s just astonishing,” says Guy Dorrell, a spokesman for Siemens Gamesa, referring to the fact that a single offshore wind farm can now power a million homes. By the end of this year, his firm plans to install an onshore prototype of a 14MW offshore turbine that can be boosted to supply 15MW.
“We’ve worked out that a single turn of a 14MW turbine would power a Tesla Model 3 for 352km (218 miles),” he says. Besides heightened power output, one of the advantages of bigger turbines is that they are more efficient in terms of installation time and cost – clearly, you only need one base structure and set of cables for a 14MW turbine versus two for a pair of 7MW machines. […]
Continue reading: Why giant turbines are pushing the limits of possibility