Monsters, are ready to take over the windy landscape of Europe.
And we’re not talking about King Kong, or Godzilla — although that would be cool.
We’re talking about giant-sized, billion-dollar wind farms capable of powering millions of homes.
According to a recent report from the Global Wind Energy Council, the sector installed 93 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity in 2020, a record figure which represents a year-on-year jump of more than 50%, CNBC reported.
Over the last decade, the global wind power market has almost quadrupled.
But as the industry has grown, the turbines have too.
Several original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, announced plans to develop new, large-scale turbines for the offshore sector — and the size of these new machines is considerable, CNBC reported.
GE Renewable Energy’s Haliade-X turbine, for example, will have a tip-height of 260 meters (853 feet), 107-meter long blades and a 220-meter rotor.
Its capacity will be able to be configured to 12, 13 or 14 megawatts (MW). A prototype of the Haliade-X, in the Netherlands, has a tip-height of 248 meters.
Details of GE’s Haliade-X were released in March 2018. In the years since, other big players in the sector such as Vestas and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE) have rolled out designs for similarly huge turbines, CNBC reported.
“You could see a quantum leap in the technology architecture, and the technology specifications on the turbines,” Shashi Barla, a principal analyst at Wood Mackenzie, told CNBC.
Competition within the sector is certainly heating up. In February, Vestas revealed plans for a 15 MW turbine. It wants to install a prototype in 2022 and expand production in 2024.
For its part, SGRE is working on a 14 MW model, the SG 14-222 DD, which can also be boosted to 15 MW if required, CNBC reported.
Again, the dimensions of these turbines are big: the Vestas turbine will have a blade length of 115.5 meters and a rotor diameter of 236 meters. SGRE’s design incorporates 108 meter blades and a rotor diameter of 222 meters.
The size and scope of these new designs may be impressive, but they have a practical purpose too.
When it comes to height, for instance, a taller turbine can harness faster wind speeds and produce more electricity, CNBC reported.
Rotor size is also crucial, a point Wood Mackenzie’s Barla was keen to make.
Increasing the diameter of a turbine’s rotor has a bigger impact than boosting its height, he argued, “because the swept area is increasing and (if) the swept area is increasing then you’re harnessing more energy.”
The potential downside, of course, is the environmental impact of these larger turbine blades on local bird and bat populations, Spain’s REVE reported.
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, between 140,000 and 500,000 bird deaths occur at wind farms each year.
Wind turbines have also been found to be one of the leading causes of mass bat mortality —with some studies pinning fatalities at 888,000 bats a year.
Unlike previous years, wind energy companies are now responsible for completing environmental impact assessments (EIAs) prior to the installation of wind turbines in an area.
Bird migratory routes are avoided, and vegetation surveys are conducted underneath turbines to ensure that none of the migratory birds’ preferred food sources are present.
In Spain, some wind energy companies even shut down wind farms when large numbers of migrating birds approach, REVE reported.
A 2019 study describes mitigation measures involving tilling the soil around the base of wind turbines — making the area less attractive to kestrels due to the consequent reduction of prey around the turbines.
The result? A 75–100% decline in collisions over a period of two years.
Even more recently, Norwegian scientists have discovered that painting one of the three blades on a wind turbine black reduces avian deaths by 72%, REVE reported.
Scientists believe, once a blade is painted black, the birds correctly distinguish the motion patterns as a moving object.