Competing Demands of Efficiency, Reliability and Economy

Driving for efficiency, reliability and economy, turbine designers are constantly wrestling with the apparently conflicting choices these three factors engender.

Perhaps inevitably, by making machines more robust — and therefore more reliable — their weight would be expected to increase. Any such increase in mass has a corresponding impact on foundations and towers, the requirements for heavy lifting gear and challenges in sourcing components and potential subcontractors capable of manufacturing such high precision parts. All of these factors have an influence on costs, and not just on the costs of installation, but also on the operations and maintenance regimes, and ultimately on the most vital consideration for investors in and developers of energy infrastructure — the lifetime cost of energy produced from these machines.

It is no coincidence that these influences become even more significant as wind turbines become larger and more powerful and move away from land and into deep waters where the primacy of reliability, the challenges of installation, operations and maintenance and the scale of the engineering involved becomes all the more enhanced.

At the heart of any wind turbine is the drive train, and it is no surprise that these components are the focus of a significant proportion of the on-going research and development efforts of the wind industry.

Another challenge facing the industry is that of securing a supply chain of components, an issue which, again, becomes more pressing as components become larger and more complex, limiting the number of manufacturers that can deliver whilst ensuring that the demands of superb quality are met. The new BTM Consult supply chain analysis explores these themes in detail.

Key themes emerging from this analysis include the suggestion that the wind turbine component market is in flux, shifting from a position of constraint just a few years ago to a market currently characterised by oversupply as a result of the economic turmoil we find ourselves in. This may, in turn, have resulted in a flight to quality as developers aim to secure the most reliable systems at the best possible price. While this situation again presents challenges for the manufacturing sector, it nonetheless offers opportunities and contributes to delivering on those lower costs of energy.

Again looking offshore, there is the issue of resource assessment in deep waters where alternatives to met masts may yield significant advantages. As always, it seems that it is the engineers and designers who are leading this industry to grid parity.

Image: WDG Photo via Shutterstock

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