There are big things going on in the world of wind power – quite literally. Wind turbine manufacturers are quickly understanding that when it comes to wind turbines, bigger is always better. But, what about the turbine needs to be bigger?
There are two ways to make a wind turbine bigger in a way that will increase the amount of wind power it can generate. The first is to give it bigger blades. When the blades cover a larger area, the capacity of the turbine is increased. Option number two is to make the turbines taller. This puts the blades higher up in the atmosphere where the wind is steady and more reliable. This will mean that the blades are turning more often.
Unfortunately, making wind turbines more efficient is not quite as simple as making everything bigger. When turbines are made bigger, they also need to be made more resilient, without being heavier and less effective. The stress a strong wind can place on a wind turbine can be extreme. There are also a number of non-technical problems that need to be considered, such as loss of view, the effect on big birds, transportation and maintenance issues etc.
Wind power is increasingly moving out to sea. Here, very few limitations exist. The land is barely in sight so views and shadows become unimportant. In a way, the sky is the limit so is it up to the engineers to see how big they can make these energy generating machines.
It is little surprise that energy companies are trying to capitalise on the idea that bigger is better when it comes to generating wind power. This year, GE Renewable Energy announced their investment of a staggering $400 million into a new mega turbine called the Haliade-X. This turbine is expected to be the biggest and most powerful in the world and should be ready for installation in 2021.
To give you some perspective on this new monster turbine, currently, the average height for a wind turbine in the USA is between 142 and 152 metres. The Haliade-X is going to be around 260 metres. On top of that the rotor diameter of the turbine is going to be roughly double the size of the average. This is good news as the greater the diameter of the rotor, the more wind it can harvest. Even the blades are going to be record-breaking, measuring in at about 100 metres in length (that’s around the same length as a football field).
If all goes well, this is a trend we should see continuing in the long term. The Haliade-X is more than just a vanity project. Bigger turbines means a steadier and more reliable harvest of energy, which means easier integration into the grid.
So, what does this mean for the future of wind power? ONe of the main problems with wind power is that it is not reliable. It is often subsidised with the use of natural gas plants or other sources of energy. When we have giant wind turbines that produce a steady flow of reliable energy we are going to be able to reduce our dependence on other energy sources. In the near future, wind power could crush all of its competitors as turbines keep getting bigger and bigger.