The race to build ‘super-size’ wind turbines is underway

Picture of a Haliad-X wind turbine in the Netherlands on March 2, 2022. The Halliad-X is part of a new generation of giant turbines that will be installed in the years to come.

Peter Boer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Not too far into the future, 15 miles from Martha’s Vineyard, Water will be home to a potentially important part of America’s energy future: the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind 1, a project described as “the country’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm.”

Construction of the Vineyard Wind 1 began last year, and the facility will use a 13-megawatt version of the GE renewable Haliad-X turbine. With a height of up to 260 meters (853 feet), a rotor diameter of 220 meters and a 107-meter blade, the Haliad-X is part of a new generation turbine to be installed in the years to come.

In addition to GE, other companies are entering into large turbine legislation. In August 2021, China’s Mingyang Smart Energy unveiled details of a 264-meter-long design that would use 118-meter blades.

Elsewhere, Danish firm Vestas is working on a 15-megawatt turbine with a rotor diameter of 236 meters and a 115.5-meter blade, while Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy is developing a turbine that includes a 108-meter blade and a 22-meter rotor.

The reasons for this increase in size are clear. When it comes to altitude, the US Department of Energy says turbine towers “are getting taller to capture more energy, as the wind generally increases as altitude increases.”

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A larger rotor diameter is not just for display, the DOE noted that they “allow wind turbines to sweep more area, capture more air and generate more electricity.”

It is very similar to the blade. The DOE says longer blades can “capture more of the available air than shorter blades – even in areas with relatively less air.”

The arrival of huge turbines in the market is all well and good, but their sheer scale can create long-term challenges for the sector out of many, pinching points that can cause headaches.

Ship size

Take the installation. In February, Rystad Energy’s research showed respect for some potential issues related to ships used to install offshore wind turbines at sea.

Not counting China, it said it has seen wind turbines in what it calls “an increase in recent years, from an average of 3 MW (MW) in 2010 to 6.5 MW today.”

This transfer, he explains, could be permanent. “Turbines larger than 8 MW accounted for only 3% of global installations between 2010 and 2021, but that percentage is projected to increase to 53% by 2030.”

The above data relates only to offshore wind turbines. According to the Energy Research and Business Intelligence Agency, demand for ships capable of installing larger offshore turbines will exceed supply by 2024.

Operators, it said, would have to invest in new ships or upgrade existing ones to install over-sized turbines that would become the norm by the end of the decade or slow down offshore wind installations.

“When the turbines were small, the installation could have been handled by a first-generation fleet of offshore aircraft carriers or jackups converted from the oil and gas industry,” Martin Lyson, a senior analyst at Riggs & Vessels, said in a statement to Rested Energy. Time

Operators will continue to favor larger turbines, Licensing said, adding that a “new generation purpose-built ship” will be needed to meet demand.

These specialized ships do not come cheap. US firm Dominion Energy, for example, is leading a consortium to build the 472-foot Cheribidis, which will cost about $ 500 million and will be able to install current turbines and the next generation of 12 MW or more turbines. If the turbines continue to grow, more ships like the Cheribidis will be needed in the future.

According to Rystad Energy’s analysis, “In the current fleet of purpose-built ships, only a few units can install 10 MW + turbines, and currently no one is able to install 14 MW + turbines.” “This will change towards 2025 as new builds begin to be delivered and existing ships will receive crane upgrades.”


The ships that transport and install turbines will be important in the coming years, but the ports where they dock are another area where investment and upgrades may be needed to increase wind power.

In a comment sent to CNBC via email, Ristad Energy’s license described the port’s infrastructure as “very important” from a ship’s perspective.

Ships installed in Ostend, Belgium. Wind power industry companies have called for significant investment in port infrastructure to cope with the rapid expansion of wind farms.

Philip Clement / Arters | Universal Image Group | Getty Images

Going forward it would seem that a lot of money would be needed. Last May, a report from industry body WindEurope said that European ports would need to invest 6.5 billion euros (approximately $ 7.07 billion) by 2030 “to support offshore wind expansion.”

The report cites new realities of large turbines and their impact on ports and infrastructure. “Hosting larger turbines and a larger market requires upgrades or completely new facilities,” it says.

Ports need to “expand their land, strengthen their ports, improve their deep-sea ports and do other civic work,” WindEurope said.

Most recently, a report by the Global Wind Energy Council emphasized the importance of ports.

“As offshore wind projects expand and commercial floating wind projects expand, port upgrades will be critical to the industry’s future success,” it says.

The Brussels-based company said the size of the turbines has “increased dramatically” over the past decade, noting that 15 MW of turbines are available in the market.

“Experts now predict that turbines with a 17-megawatt rating will become commonplace by 2035,” he said, adding that projects centering on floating offshore winds are being built “on a massive scale”.

These “floating projects” required “significant waste storage and assembly, more extensive facilities, and land transport connections between port areas and deep-water ports.”

“Several governments have identified port upgrades as important for the advancement of offshore winds from Taiwan to New York State.”

As the wind turbines grow in size, so do the vessels used to transport their components.

Andrew Matthews – Foot Image | Foot picture | Getty Images

Regarding ports, Rystad Energy’s Lysne told CNBC that the US – whose current offshore wind market is small – “needs to do more because they do not have the same infrastructure as Europe.”

Change on that front seems imminent. In early March, BP and Equinor – two businesses known as oil and gas producers – signed an agreement to transform the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal into an offshore wind port.

In a statement, Equinor said the port would be “a state-of-the-art staging facility for Equinor and BP’s Empire Wind and Beacon Wind projects.” The site, it claims, “will be a destination for future offshore wind projects in the region.” Investment in infrastructure development is expected to range from $ 200 million to $ 250 million.

The road ahead

All of the above refer to the importance of infrastructure and logistics. Shashi Barla, who heads Wood McKenzie’s global air supply chain and technology, told CNBC that while companies have the technical capabilities, logistical challenges are proving to be “very difficult.”

“It’s not like it’s new … We’ve been talking about logistical challenges since day one of the industry,” Barla said. “It’s … we’re somehow, today, at the tipping point.”

Worldwide, major economies are announcing plans to increase wind power to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

As the components of wind turbines get bigger, so do the logistical challenges facing the sector. This image shows, from August 2021, a 69-meter long rotor blade being transported to Germany.

Endrik Baublies | Editorial | Getty Images

While these goals are ambitious, it is clear that they face a number of obstacles. Despite the turbine size issues, a huge effort will be required to bring all these installations online. Have to work.

“Increasingly, the lack of convenient infrastructure is seen as a major limiting factor in the growth of the aerospace industry,” the GWEC report said.

“In many countries,” he added, “the lack of infrastructure, such as grid and transmission networks, logistical highways and ports, is slowing down the expansion of wind power and hindering the innovation needed to transform energy systems.”

In addition to these issues, the interaction of wind turbines with wildlife could be another area of ​​great debate and discussion.

Just last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that a firm called ESI Energy Inc. had been found guilty of three counts of violating the “MBTA” or Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

As the 21st century progresses, wind power is set for a massive expansion, but the road ahead looks far from smooth. The Secretary-General of the United Nations recently warned that the planet was “on the verge of falling asleep in the face of climate catastrophe.”

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