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GE and Alstom Prepare for Larger Wind Turbines

America's GE has acquired intellectual property to build lower-cost, 100-meter-tall-plus towers capable of supporting high-capacity turbines. And France's Alstom Group and LM Wind Power Group of Denmark have teamed to develop what they claim will be the longest wind turbine ever produced.

Tall towers and big turbines are part of the move toward ever-bigger wind power systems to drive production up and costs down. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the average wind turbine installed in 2007 had a capacity of 1.6 MW, which is twice as powerful as the average turbine installed in 2000 at 0.76 MW. Wind turbines today are common at up to 3 MW.  Earlier this month, Vestas announced that it will supply 33 V90-3.0 MW wind turbines to New Hampshire, USA, after receiving an order from Granite Reliable Power Windpark.

However, while taller wind towers provide more power, they are harder to build, install and transport. And the taller cranes required to lift the heavier turbines are also expensive to ship and assemble.

GE hopes to overcome these challenges with the help of tall tower technology developed by Wind Tower Systems. GE acquired the tower maker from Wasatch Wind on Feb. 11.

The modular “space frame tower” developed by Wind Tower Systems is engineered to handle unique static and dynamic loads at hub heights of 100 meters and more. Moreover, it can be transported in smaller pieces than traditional tubular systems, using only one sixth of the trucks normally required.

The tower construction comes with a so-called Hi-Jack crane system, which crawls up the tower to install the turbine. The manufacturer claims that the system can reduce crane installation costs by 80 percent.

“The taller space frame towers and integrated lifting system concepts, developed with the support of the U.S. DOE and California Energy Commission, have been designed to drive lower wind energy costs,” said Thomas Conroy, CEO of Wind Tower Systems. ”We are delighted that the development of the company’s products will be completed and commercialized by GE.”

GE said it plans to install a prototype of the space frame tower to validate and test the system’s design later this year, with commercial availability targeted for 2012.

Also thinking big, Alstom and LM Wind Power have formed a strategic partnership to develop what they hope will be the world’s longest wind turbine blade, designed to fit Alstom’s new 6 MW wind turbine targeted for Europe’s growing offshore wind market.

The blade uses advanced materials enabling LM Wind Power to design and manufacture relatively lighter glass fiber and polyester blades for the length. The geometry of the new blade has already been validated in LM Wind Power’s own wind tunnel.

“This new blade builds on the innovative features developed for our recent blade launch, the GloBlade, which has proved to be tremendously successful, offering an additional annual energy production of 4-5 percent compared to standard blades,” said Roland Sunden, chief executive officer of LM Wind Power.  

The manufacturer, a pioneer in offshore wind turbine technology, installed its first blades in the early 1990s in one of the world’s first offshore wind farms in Vindeby, Denmark. For the past several years, it has been a key supplier of 61.5-meter long blades for offshore wind farms across Europe.

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