LONDON -- With annual market growth of almost 10 percent, and cumulative capacity growth of about 19 percent according to the latest figures from the Global Wind Energy Council, the wind sector continued to make robust progress in 2012. But while these figures suggest a relatively buoyant market for installations, perhaps a more accurate way to judge the health of the wind sector is to consider investment in R&D, and more specifically the products of that research, development and testing.
Indeed, alongside the expansion of wind markets - notably in Asia and the US, with Europe not far behind - wind technology also continued to show progress over the last year. Key trends appear to focus on larger offshore machines, new versions of existing turbines that have been upgraded and modified to suit a wider range of wind regimes and operating conditions, and a number of developments that aim to reduce installation and operations and maintenance costs.
For example, in January this year A2SEA's new second generation vessel, Sea Installer, erected two Siemens 6-MW test turbines at DONG Energy's demonstration site Gunfleet Sands 3.
“The turbines are getting bigger, and the future sites are further out to sea. This calls for more flexible vessels,” says Jens Frederik Hansen, CEO at A2SEA A/S. The vessel was launched from Qidong in China where it had spent two years under construction.
In autumn 2012 Hochtief also revealed a new vessel. Developed in conjunction with Areva, Innovation is a new heavy lift jack-up offshore installation vessel. Operating in depths of up to 65 meters, its cargo capacity is up to 8000 tons and the onboard crane can lift up to 1500 tons. Innovation was built by HGO InfraSea Solutions, a joint company of Hochtief Solutions and GeoSea.
Areva also showcased its new Single Blade Installation system (SBI) enabling the installation of blades on the hub in all positions up to 330 degrees and at wind speeds up to 12 m/s. By avoiding the need to transport assembled rotors, the system saves deck space and increases the number of machines which can be transported as a single load, Areva says. They add that the 55-ton remotely-controlled yoke was first tested in May at its prototype site in Bremerhaven, with the average time to mount or demount a blade around three hours.
Onshore, for example, Vestas and SNCF Geodis are using the railways to transport blades, with up to nine 55 meter long blades transportable by train. Although railway transportation of blades is still in its early phases in Europe, Vestas says it expects to reduce costs by 10-15 percent compared to transport by road.
Larger Rotor Diameters, Higher Speeds Explored
Among the major manufacturers announcing new, larger rotor, versions of existing machines, in February Spanish player Acciona revealed its new 125 meter diameter rotor for the company's existing AW300 platform. Designed to give the 3-MW turbine superior performance at low-wind IEC Class III sites, the AW 125/3000 model stands on Acciona's 120 meter concrete tower and has a swept area of more than 12,300 m2. Design certification for the new rotor is due for completion in 2013, with the first blades installed by the end of the year. The machine will be available for delivery in 2014 for both 50 and 60 Hz markets, Acciona says. It launched the 116 meter rotor version for IEC Class II sites in 2011.
At the recent EWEA 2013 Annual Event in Vienna, Alstom also announced an upgrade of its ECO 100 3 MW platform, currently designed for medium (Class II-A) wind sites, to medium and high winds (IEC Class II-A and IS Class). The ECO 122 turbine, currently suitable for Class III sites, is also being upgraded to medium and low winds (IEC Class III-A and II B). This upgrade increases the net capacity factor to up to 48 percent for both turbines with rotor diameters of 100, 110 and 122 meters, the company says.
Meanwhile, the first wind farm featuring ECO 110 wind turbines has been inaugurated in Brittany, France, following the signing of a March 2011 contract between Alstom and Eole Generation GDF SUEZ Group for installation of 11 machines. These feature a 110 meter diameter rotor designed for Class II wind regimes and sit on a 145 meter tower.
In a related development, September 2012 saw Alstom sign a deal for the manufacture of their ECO 122 wind turbines in two wind complexes, located in the North-East of Brazil with a 600 MW annual production capacity.
Vestas also revealed a number of new machines over the past year. In the low-wind arena the wind power giant sold its first V126-3.0 MW machines in November 2012, having launched the machine at the Husum Wind fair in September. Finland's TuuliWatti Oy is expected to see delivery of the initial batch of units in the fourth quarter of 2013.
The turbine is the latest variant of the 3 MW platform first launched in August 2010, has a rotor diameter of 126 meters to target low wind conditions (Class III) and features a structural shell blade design. The swept area has been increased by 27 percent compared with the previous model, the V112-3.0 MW, with its 112 meter rotor diameter. Featuring 55 meter-long blades, it is suitable for all three wind classes as well as offshore, Vestas says. Indeed, in June 2012 Vestas released a high-wind version of the machine. The new IEC S uses a beefed-up gearbox modified to handle the increased loads.
“The global market for high-wind turbines is diverse. In traditional and mature wind markets like the European mainland, there are not that many high-wind sites and opportunities left. However, in other markets, there are huge untapped high-wind resources and potential for high-wind specific turbines,” says Knud Winther Nielsen, senior product manager for Vestas Turbines R&D and head of the commercial development of the V112-3.0 MW.
Nielsen's words are backed up with another new product, announced in 2012 by GE and the latest version of its trusty 1.5-MW platform. The 1.85-82.5 machine is destined for high wind sites in Brazil, the company says.
IEC-certified for higher wind speed sites, the new turbine offers an 8 percent increase in annual energy production at 9 meters per second over its previous model. GE says its proprietary Advanced Loads Control allows siting of the 82.5 meter rotor in more aggressive wind regimes.
New Machines, New Manufacturing
Along with new machines, new manufacturing facilities are also being developed which will produce the new generation of products.
For example, in January 2013 Alstom launched construction of two new turbine plants in France. The Saint-Nazaire plants, expected to be commissioned in 2014, will be entirely devoted to assembling nacelles and manufacturing generators for the 6 MW Haliade 150 offshore wind turbine featuring a permanent magnet direct drive generator and a 150 meter rotor diameter. The two industrial buildings will be next to each other and will cover approximately 2.5 hectares in Montoir-de-Bretagne, within the harbor zone of Saint-Nazaire. They will be scaled for a production capacity of 100 machines per year and will take over from the temporary workshop in Saint-Nazaire where Alstom is already producing early series machines. By 2015, two other plants in Cherbourg intended for the production of blades and towers are set to be completed. The blades plant is being developed with LM Wind Power, whose 73.5 meter blades became the first 70+ meter blades to be installed when Alstom inaugurated the turbine.