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How big can wind turbines get?

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Renewables International

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Danish wind power technology specialists K2 Management say that new installation methods and new materials could take hub height up to 170 meters in the foreseeable future. In the past few years, the average turbine size installed in Germany, for instance, has continued to increase. Since 1999, the average hub height has increased by 48 percent. The higher you get, the stronger the winds blow, and they come more constantly from the same direction with less turbulence.

Wind turbines have long been as big as the Statue of Liberty and giant Ferris wheels. You can now also buy some that are as big as the Gherkin skyscraper in London. Machines as tall as the Eiffel Tower are already in the works as well.

Wind turbines have long been as big as the Statue of Liberty and giant Ferris wheels. You can now also buy some that are as big as the Gherkin skyscraper in London. Machines as tall as the Eiffel Tower are already in the works as well.

K2 estimates that a 3MW turbine installed in a forest would have average wind velocities of six meters per second. Double the hub height from 70 to 140 meters, and you increase wind velocity by 13 percent. But average energy production increases even further – by up to 30 percent – because of lower aerodynamic surface resistance and better air viscosity. “Increasing from 70 to 170 meters is therefore expected to raise energy yield by 35 percent on average,” the company says. And the more complex the terrain is, the greater the benefits are from taller turbine towers.

Turbines already on the market already have blade tips reaching taller than the London skyscraper called the Gherkin, which stands at 180 meters. To go further, modular concrete structures will be used, and K2 is also working on hybrid turbine concepts already for hub height up to 170 meters. The blade tips would then approach 250 meters.

The result is also more even power production across the day, resulting in improved capacity factors. Turbines can then be productively built in a wider range of areas, thereby spreading out distributed energy generation even further. Our Bernard Chabot has been predicting this outcome for several years now in his work on the “silent wind revolution.”

Source: Renewables International. Reproduced with permission.

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  • solarguy

    Hey, Malcolm and Greg. Bring it on, Oh well you can only hope.

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  • Colin Nicholson

    It’s technical I know, but the wind viscosity really doesn’t change with height. What changes is the wind shear brought on by that viscosity. That is objects (especially sharp objects) reduce the wind velocity around them, and you need to go some distance above that (or to the side for that matter) to be back to what they call free stream velocity Just thought I’d get it out there before George reappeared

  • patb2009

    As they get bigger the environmental issues need to be assessed and at some point they start becoming a problem to aircraft.

    However that said, the growing market is going to call for more and more of these and bigger and bigger.

  • Miles Harding

    Currently, larger turbines gain an advantage from accessing faster moving air at greater height, they also have an advantage of reducing the land footprint by effectively stacking the generator vertically, much the same as a highrise building.

    Like a tall apartment block, there will be a point when the strength of materials limits ambitions. As the towers and blades get bigger, relatively more material has to be devoted to support the active material on the surface of the blades, leading to reduced efficiency. In addition, the increase of wind speed with increased height diminishes, limiting the benefits of larger towers and blade sets.

    Another issue is the cost of a single unit failure, both economically and of reduced capacity. The rail industry discovered this when 6000HP locomotives were introduced. Because few were needed, even in big ore trains, a single unit failure could stop the train. The industry now uses mainly 4000HP engines.