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Solar power is becoming more and more affordable, but there are also big things happening in wind technology. And I mean it
How Tall Is 56 In In Feet
The math behind wind turbines is simple: bigger is better. Basically, there are two ways to generate more wind power in an area.
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The first is larger rotors and blades that cover a larger area. This increases the turbine’s efficiency, i.e. its total output.
The second is to lift the blade higher into the atmosphere where the wind blows stronger. This increases the “coefficient of performance” of the turbine, i.e. the amount of power it actually produces compared to its total potential (or more often: how often it runs).
The history of wind energy development is a history of building taller turbines with larger blades. It is complex and sensitive. Long, thin objects placed in stronger winds tend to bend and bend. When the long turbine blades bend, they can collide with the tower or the hub, as this Danish system did in 2008 when the “brakes” failed and went out of control:
Therefore, the third technical challenge is to find designs and materials that can withstand the stress of higher altitudes and stronger winds. These stresses are really intense – check out this video where engineers test the blades of a large turbine by pulling it back and forth with “the weight of about 16 African elephants.”
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Either way, making bigger and bigger turbines is the name of the game. In the case of onshore (onshore) turbines, the process begins to run into various non-technical constraints – lack of transportation and infrastructure, land use issues, concerns about how view, the big bird, the shadow, etc.
But especially in Europe, wind energy is increasingly going offshore. And in the sea, with barely visible land, the only limit to size is engineering. As a result, offshore turbines today are ramping up faster than offshore turbines over the past decade.
A clear example of this trend occurred in March 2018 (when I first published this story). GE Renewable Energy announced that it will invest 400 million dollars to develop a new giant turbine: the Haliade-X, which (at least until the next announcement) is the largest, tallest and most powerful turbine in the world.
At 351 meters, GE’s Haliade-X 12MW wind turbine blade is the longest in the world. GE Renewable Energy
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This is an impressive feat of engineering, but the importance of increasing the size of the turbine goes far beyond that. Larger turbines produce more energy in the same way; the larger they are, the less messy and more reliable they are, and the easier it is to integrate them into the network. Wind already competes with other sources in the wholesale energy market. After a few generations of growth, it will no longer be a contest.
I called Ben Hoen, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to get the latest data on wind turbine sizes. (He stresses that these are preliminary figures — LBNL has a report on that coming out in a few months, but he doesn’t expect the numbers to change much, if at all.)
According to Hoen, the average height (base to tip) of offshore turbines in the United States in 2017 was 142 feet (466 meters). The average turbine is closer to 152 meters (499 ft). In fact, Hoen says, the median is nearing its peak. In other words, over time, US onshore turbines seem to be clustering at this level. Why? Because if you build taller than 499 feet, it requires an extra step in the approval process of the Federal Aviation Administration, and most developers don’t seem to find it worth it.
The tallest turbine in the United States is at the Hancock Wind project in Hancock County, Maine. These – Vestas V117-3.3 if you must know – are around 574 meters tall.
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So on land. What about the sea? Well, so far the United States has only one offshore wind farm, the Block Island Wind Farm near Rhode Island. The turbine rises about 590 meters.
As far as I know, it is the tallest wind turbine in the world. From what I can glean from googling (like I said, these things change fast), the previous record holder was an 809 meter land turbine in Germany.
The diameter of the rotor is a measure of the complete rotation of the turbine blade (the diameter of the defining circle). For the rest, a larger rotor diameter means the turbine can collect more air.
Hoen told me that as of 2017, wind turbines in the United States have a diameter of about 367 feet. Haliade-X will have a diameter of approx
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Feet, about double the average. The blade will be massive, 351 feet long, longer than a football field and longer, GE says, than any other marine shovel to date.
The large diameter of the rotor, the constant external wind and the 12MW turbine (about 3MW onshore; about 6MW offshore) mean that the Haliade-X will have a high coefficient of friction.
This excerpt from the Department of Energy’s 2016 Wind Technology Market Report shows how wind power has changed over time: 2004-2011 and Only 25.4% of the projects were built in 1998-2001.
By comparison, in 2016, the US nuclear fleet had an average efficiency of about 92%. (In today’s market, nuclear power is only economical when operating continuously as a load.) Coal and natural gas accounted for 55 and 56 percent, respectively. (Natural gas is very cheap because it often goes up and down with fluctuating demand. Coal used to be close to 80, but coal-fired power generation is declining.)
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Thus, wind in the United States now accounts for 42.5 percent, and natural gas accounts for 56 percent. Haliade-X, according to GE, will have a capacitance factor
. This is wackadoodle, although it won’t be the world’s tallest – the floating offshore turbines on the Hywind Scotland project recently reached 65 percent capacity.
Add it all up and at a “typical location in the German North Sea,” GE says, each Haliade-X will produce around 67 GWh per year, “enough clean energy for 16,000 households each of turbines and up to 1 million homes in Europe. by strengthening 750 MW of wind farms.” (Suffice it to say, that number will be much smaller for energy-consuming American households.) That’s “45 percent more energy than any offshore wind turbine that exists today,” the company says. .
The first Haliade-X is being built in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. GE said in April that it would begin generating electricity this year.
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I often come back to this 2015 article by energy analyst Ramez Naam about the potential end of wind energy. “Wind power at 60%,” he wrote, “even at the same price per kWh today, would be more valuable than it is today, with fewer restrictions on how much it can be used.
A capacity factor of over 60 percent isn’t quite a “heavy load,” but it certainly doesn’t seem like much of a mess. So a turbine like the Haliade-X will be more valuable even if the price of wind power stays the same.
But of course it won’t stay like that either; has decreased 65 percent since 2009. A recent NREL report predicted that innovations in wind power technology (including larger turbines are among the many) could cut that by another 50 percent by 2030. (Researchers at the University of Virginia are working on a project for an ocean turbine that will rise, I’m not lying, 1,640 feet higher than the Empire State Building.)
Assume that new wind turbines in the United States will be about 460 meters tall by 2025, according to current projections. According to NREL data, such turbines could cover more than 60 percent of the 750,000 square miles of U.S. land and more than 50 percent of the 1.16 million square miles of land.
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Such wind power, at this efficiency factor, along with predictable advances in wind technology, will produce cheap energy that will completely crush all competitors. And the year 2025 is not so far away.
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