On Tuesday the world’s largest and most powerful wind turbine swung into gear at the Danish National Test Centre for Large Wind Turbines in Østerild.
The prototype V164-8.0 MW wind turbine is 720 feet tall, has 260-foot blades, and can generate 8 MegaWatts of power — enough to supply electricity for 7,500 average European households or about 3000 American households.
A joint venture between Vestas and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the turbine is slated to go into production next year and was designed to take advantage of the growing offshore wind industry across Europe.
We have now completed the production, testing, and installation of the V164-8.0 MW as planned, thanks to the team’s intense effort during a time when Vestas has reduced its investments and lowered fixed costs.
We now look forward to evaluating the turbine’s performance on site. — Anders Vedel, Chief Technology Officer, Vestas
According to the European Offshore Wind Industry, 418 offshore turbines came online last year, providing 1,567 MW of capacity. That brought the total offshore wind capacity in Europe to 6,562 MW with just over 2,000 turbines, enough to provide 0.7 percent of the EU’s electricity.
The European Offshore Wind Industry estimates that by 2020 Europe’s offshore grid should have a capacity of 40 GigaWatts and by 2030 it should have 150 GW, enough to provide 14 percent of the EU’s electricity demand.
Vestas is Europe’s second leading wind turbine manufacturer, after Siemens, a German company. As of last year Vestas had installed 27 percent of Europe’s offshore wind turbines, or 547, compared to Siemens 1,249, or 60 percent.
We’ve all heard the warnings about how intermittent renewables could “crash” the grid if for instance all of a sudden the wind stops blowing and grid operators are left in the lurch for power when they need it. But what if wind turbines actually improve grid reliability?
Previous studies have focused on wind energy forecasting as the key to balancing wind’s availability and the power grid’s demand, but this new hypothesis could vastly expand the relationship between wind turbines and the grid.
How Does Wind Perform With The Grid?
NREL undertook the study with the Electric Power Research Institute, an organization comprised of more than 1,000 members (most of whom are electric utilities) and the University of Colorado, so renewable energy naysayers will be hard pressed to dismiss this study as an environmentalist pipe dream.
Analysts studied multiple power system simulations, control simulations, and field tests at NREL’s National Wind Technology Center to determine how if wind could provide ancillary services in wholesale electricity markets, how wind farms affect system frequency in the Western U.S. grid system, and if using wind farms to actively provide power control to the grid affects turbine performance and structural integrity.
And the outcome of all these studies? Wind energy can not only support the grid by ramping power output up and down to enhance system reliability, but that using wind farms to provide active power control is economically beneficial, all with negligible damage to the turbines themselves.
Wind Energy, Making The Grid Stronger and Cheaper
These are potentially game-changing findings. “The study’s key takeaway is that wind energy can act in an equal or superior manner to conventional generation when providing active power control, supporting the system frequency response, and improving reliability,” said Erik Ela, NREL analyst.
Active power control helps grid operators balance system demand with generation at various times throughout the day, helping prevent power flow above or below the ideal grid frequency and involuntary load shedding – preventing both potential blackouts and turbine damage.
Making America’s grid more flexible and integrating renewables is an important imperative. Without long-overdue transmission system investments, grid operators are often forced to use high-cost (and typically fossil fuel) “peaker” power plants when demand surges or baseload power plants go offline.
Intermittency Mitigated By Recent Developments
The traditional issue facing wind energy in this context is that it can’t be “turned on” by grid operators whenever they need it. Unless the wind is blowing, turbines can’t generate electricity.
But wind has shown its chops in helping keep the lights on as extreme weather has hit the U.S. in recent memory – just consider the fact that wind energy was credited with preventing blackouts in Texas and parts of the Midwest when the polar vortex spiked power demand and forced some power plants offline.
NREL’s report also notes that almost all grid operators across the U.S., as well as many power systems outside the areas covered by regional grids, are using wind farms in dispatch procedures to manage transmission congestion at five-minute intervals – meaning it’s now a generation resource to be dispatched (for free) when needed.
“Utilities and independent system operators are all seeking strategies to better integrate wind and other variable generation into their electric systems,” said Ela. “Few have considered using wind power to support power system reliability.”
Wind energy has become one of the fastest-growing sources of electricity in America, and it’s a critical source of generation if we’re going to decarbonize our economy and slow climate change. With NREL’s report, perhaps grid operators will start to see wind energy as an energy system imperative, not just an environmental imperative.
The global wind turbine leader Siemens has just inked a deal to provide its offshore turbines to the massive new Cape Wind wind power project, and that one contract could shake the offshore wind power market to its core. You know what they say about waking the sleeping tiger, right?
For the past several years, other nations (notably the UK, China, Belgium, and Denmark) have been going at the offshore wind industry hammer and tongs while the US industry has been practically comatose, with just a couple of demonstration-scale projects to its credit. Cape Wind is going to change all that.
How Significant Is Cape Wind?
To give you an idea of offshore wind power potential in the US, a Stanford University study from 2009 estimated that the Atlantic Coast alone could provide enough offshore wind power for about one-third of the US, which translates into every major city along the eastern seaboard and everything in between.
As the first commercial offshore wind farm in the US, Cape Wind will be the anchor for a coordinated, multistate effort to tap into that potential, through an initiative launched by the Obama Administration called the Atlantic Offshore Wind Consortium.
As the first of its kind, Cape Wind illustrates the many hurdles faced by the US offshore wind industry, including local, state and federal permitting issues as well as lawsuits from landowners and other stakeholders in the Cape Cod region.
The expectation is that lessons learned from getting Cape Wind off the drawing board will help streamline the process in other coastal states. The Department of Energy is already anticipated that nationally, installed US offshore wind capacity will grow from virtually zero to 3.5 gigawatts in the next five years.
The Cape Wind Project and Siemens Wind Turbines
Cape Wind started picking up speed in 2011, when the project got its Department of Energy permit.
Cape Wind will consist of 130 wind turbines with a combined capacity of up to 420 megawatts. Its developer, Energy Management Inc., estimates that even in average winds the turbines will generate enough electricity for about three-quarters of Cape Cod and its islands.
The contract calls for Siemens to provide its 3.6 megawatt offshore wind turbines along with a 15-year service agreement.
Green Jobs And Offshore Wind Power
Although Siemens’s global home is Germany, the company is careful to note that its US projects come along with US jobs and investment. According to company figures, about 60,000 people already work for Siemens in the US, and management of the Cape Wind contract will be conducted from US offices:
Siemens opened its North American Offshore Wind Office in Boston in 2010 to be closer to its U.S. and Canadian customers, and specifically to work with Cape Wind. Project management for the Cape Wind project will be managed from the Boston office, while the ESP [electric service platform] scope of work will be managed from the Company’s Transmission operations in Cary, North Carolina, and the long-term maintenance program will be managed from the company’s Americas headquarters located in Orlando, Florida.
Components for the Cape Wind’s offshore electric service platform (the part of the project that converts voltage from the turbines) will also be manufactured in Maine under a subcontract to the US firm Cianbro.
It’s worth noting that Maine’s political image has been somewhat mixed under the leadership of Governor Paul LePage, who has touted global warming as a good thing for the state’s economy, but Maine Senator Angus King has been a vocal advocate for climate management and he had this to say about the state’s role in Cape Wind:
I am very pleased that Cianbro, a Maine-based company and partner in UMaine’s floating offshore wind project, will join forces with Siemens and Cape Wind of Massachusetts to produce the offshore substation for an industry-leading offshore wind farm. By helping to generate renewable energy, and by putting New Englanders to work in the process, projects like this will not only benefit our environment, but our economy as well.
About Those Offshore Wind Turbines…
Energy Management went with an established global leader when it selected Siemens for the contract. The turbines are the same model used in a number of existing offshore wind farms and Siemens already has contracts to provide it for eight upcoming offshore projects.
Siemens’s SWT-3.6-120 model is designed specifically for sites with constrained capacity (the company also offers a model with a slightly higher capacity of 4.0 MW).
As part of an integrated offshore system, the turbines are equipped with a generous helping of automatic and remotely operated equipment, including Siemens’s proprietary WebWPS SCADA system, a vibration monitoring system that enables web-based reprogramming, and a self-diagnosing controller.
The turbines are also designed to start up automatically when wind speeds average about ten mph, increase their output at a steady rate as wind speed rises up to about 30 mph.
The turbines automatically “feather” into shutdown mode when wind speeds get too high (about 56 mph), and automatically reset once wind speeds drop.
The Solyndra Of Wind Power, Or Not
Let’s note for the record that Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), head of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, had Cape Wind in his sights last year, which is no surprise considering the Congressman’s reputation as a climate change denier.
With Issa sniffing around Cape Wind’s approval process, the predictable result was that conservative media began comparing Cape Wind to the notorious Solyndra bankruptcy.
As with so many of the Congressman’s investigations, the Cape Wind query appears to have gone nowhere, especially now that the Siemens wind turbine contract has been signed, sealed, and delivered.
However, as recently as October 13, Human Events, which bills itself as a platform for “powerful conservative voices,” was still pounding the “another Solyndra in the making” drum, so stay tuned.
Tina Casey Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.
Offshore wind power installations are on track to hit a seventh consecutive annual record in 2013. Developers added 1,080 megawatts of generating capacity in the first half of the year, expanding the world total by 20 percent in just six months. Fifteen countries host some 6,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity. Before the year is out, the world total should exceed 7,100 megawatts. Although still small compared with the roughly 300,000 megawatts of land-based wind power, offshore capacity is growing at close to 40 percent a year.
In 1991, Denmark installed the world’s first offshore wind farm, a 5-megawatt project in the Baltic Sea. The country’s offshore wind sector has since alternated between lulls and bursts of activity. Since 2008, Denmark’s offshore wind capacity has more than tripled, topping 1,200 megawatts by mid-2013. Over 350 megawatts of offshore wind power were plugged into the grid in the first half of the year—all of it to complete the 400-megawatt Anholt project, which is expected to meet 4 percent of Danish electricity needs.
Denmark already gets more than 30 percent of its electricity from wind—onshore and offshore—and aims to increase that share to 50 percent by 2020. At about one third the size of New York State, Denmark has the world’s highest wind power capacity per square mile, so it will rely mostly on offshore expansion to hit the 2020 target. Denmark was first to put wind turbines in the sea, but today it ranks a distant second to the United Kingdom in total offshore wind generating capacity.
More than 500 megawatts of new offshore wind power went online in U.K. waters in the first half of 2013, bringing the country’s grand total to over 3,400 megawatts—enough to power more than 2 million U.K. homes. The bulk of this new offshore capacity went to completing the 630-megawatt first phase of the London Array, now the world’s largest offshore wind farm. It overtook another U.K. project, the 500-megawatt Greater Gabbard wind farm, which was finished in 2012. In all, the United Kingdom has some 12,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity under construction or in earlier development stages. Belgium’s offshore wind capacity grew 20 percent to 450 megawatts in the first half of 2013, placing it third in the world rankings. Germany reached 380 megawatts of offshore wind and will have at least 520 megawatts by year’s end.
Beyond this, the German offshore industry expects another 1,000 megawatts will connect to the grid in both 2014 and 2015. Countries in Asia are starting to make offshore wind power more than just a European affair. China, for example, brought its first offshore wind farm online in 2010. Since then, China has quickly climbed to fourth in the world, with 390 megawatts.
The official goal is for 5,000 megawatts of wind capacity in Chinese waters by 2015, ballooning to 30,000 megawatts by 2020. In Japan, where land is at a premium and where the future of nuclear energy is in question, offshore wind is gaining attention as a potentially huge domestic, carbon-free power source. A 16-megawatt project inaugurated in the first half of 2013 bumped Japan’s offshore wind capacity to 41 megawatts. Because Japan lacks much shallow seabed in which to fix standard offshore turbines, new floating turbine technology is likely the future for offshore wind there. Off the coast of Fukushima prefecture, a 2-megawatt floating turbine will begin generating electricity in November 2013, the first stage of a 16-megawatt demonstration project. If it performs well, the hope is to expand the project’s capacity to up to 1,000 megawatts by 2020.
Floating turbines may actually be a big part of future offshore wind development at the global level. Not only do they greatly expand the area available for wind farms, they also have the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of offshore wind generation, which today is more than twice as expensive as that from turbines on land. While offshore wind manufacturers have managed to achieve cost reductions for the turbines themselves—through lighter, stronger materials and increased efficiency, for example—these savings have thus far been offset by the rising cost of installing and maintaining turbines fixed to the seabed as projects move into deeper waters.
The renewable energy consultancy GL Garrad Hassan notes that working around harsh weather becomes much easier with floating turbines: when conditions are favorable, relatively cheap tugboats can bring a turbine to the project site for quick installation, avoiding the need for specialized installation vessels.
The turbine can be floated back to shore when the time comes for maintenance, lowering both cost and risk. The world is gaining experience in using this young technology. In the last few years, Norway’s Statoil and Seattle-based Principle Power have both deployed floating wind prototypes successfully, in Norwegian and Portuguese waters, respectively. In June 2013, the United States at last joined the offshore wind club when a 20-kilowatt (0.02-megawatt) floating wind turbine anchored off the coast of Maine first sent electricity to the state’s power grid.
The turbine developer, DeepCwind, a consortium led by the University of Maine, plans to deploy two much larger versions, 6 megawatts each, in 2016. The first full-fledged offshore wind farm in the United States, though, will likely be of the traditional variety fixed to a foundation in the seabed. Three proposals—Massachusetts’ 470-megawatt Cape Wind project, Rhode Island’s 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, and New Jersey’s 25-megawatt Fisherman’s Energy I project—are the closest to beginning construction. U.S. offshore wind’s potential is staggering.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, shallow waters along the eastern seaboard could host 530,000 megawatts of wind power, capable of covering more than 40 percent of current U.S. electricity generation. Adding in deeper waters and the other U.S. coastal regions boosts the potential to more than 4.1 million megawatts. This is consistent with the findings of a 2009 Harvard study that calculated wind energy potential worldwide.
The authors estimated that in most of the world’s leading carbon dioxide-emitting countries, available wind resources could easily meet national electricity needs. In fact, offshore wind alone would be sufficient. Clearly, the world has barely begun to realize its offshore potential. Indeed, in some countries, regulatory and policy uncertainty seem to be sapping offshore wind’s momentum just as it really gets going, clouding the picture for future development.
The U.K. government, concerned about costs, recently changed its target date for 18,000 megawatts of offshore wind from 2020 to 2030. In Germany, turbine orders are scarce as developers await the new coalition government’s plans for regulations and incentives. And in China, offshore wind companies say the guaranteed price for the electricity they generate is set too low to stimulate rapid growth, calling into question whether the country can hit its ambitious goals for 2015 and 2020.
Reflecting the hazy outlook in these and other key countries, projections for global offshore wind capacity over the next decade or so—from research and consulting firms and from industry publications—range anywhere from 37,000 to 130,000 megawatts. Despite the impressive growth of recent years, it seems that the lower end of these forecasts is much more likely. We know there is practically no limit to the available resource. What remains to be seen is how quickly the world will harness it and give offshore wind power a more prominent place in the new energy economy. For more information on wind power, see “After Record 2012, World Wind Power Set to Top 300,000 Megawatts in 2013,” by J. Matthew Roney, at www.earth-policy.org.
Guest Contributor is many, many people all at once. In other words, we publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people. 😀
Offshore wind farms already face one of the most inhospitable environments for renewable energy – we know salt water, storms, and waves can combine to reduce output, but are inefficient turbine layouts also sapping generation?
New research from the University of Delaware suggests the existing tight grid layouts of offshore wind farms reduces wind farm power generation, but that efficiently spacing or staggering turbines significantly increases their capacity factor.
Offshore Wind Not Always Living Up To Its Potential
The team of researchers at University of Delaware’s (UD) Atmosphere and Energy Research Group based their studies on Sweden’s Lilligrund offshore wind farm. The project has a total installed capacity of 110.4 megawatts (MW), but has only produced power at a 35% capacity factor (as of 2012) – and its tightly packed rows could be the reason it performs below offshore wind’s median 43% capacity factor.
After setting their baseline, the researchers created six alternative wind farm layouts in computer simulations. Some layouts kept turbines in consistent rows spaced further apart while others staggered turbine row alignments similar to how theater seats are spaced to improve seat views as they move further back.
The computer simulations took weeks to run and focused on how the eddies, or choppy air produced by each turbine spinning, affected the output of downwind turbines in the farm.
Efficient Turbine Spacing Boosted Output 33%
So what did the simulations find? “Staggering every other row was amazingly efficient,” said Cristina Archer, associate professor at UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. Spacing turbines farther apart and staggering rows decreased output losses from eddies 14% and improved overall performance by 33%
These results mirror onshore wind farm research being conducted at Texas Tech’s SWiFT facility, which found inefficient turbine spacing reduced power output of interior wind farm rows up to 40%
The team also found the most optimal offshore wind farm configuration had turbine rows oriented to face prevailing wind directions. However, prevailing winds change direction at most locations throughout the year, meaning turbines may need to adjust slightly on a seasonal basis to realize their highest potential output.
While that’s not technologically feasible today, knowing when turbines will be most productive could inform where and how to build future offshore wind farms. “We want to explore all these trade-offs systematically, one by one” said Archer, whose previous research found wind could meet half the world’s power demand by 2030.
Applying Lessons Learned To Future Projects
As offshore wind energy farms start sprouting up along the US East Coast, project developers have an incredible opportunity to apply lessons learned from Europe’s existing offshore wind industry.