Bigger is better with wind turbines | RenewEconomy

Bigger is better with wind turbines

A new study supports the general trend in the wind industry over the last 30 years: the larger the turbines the better. Here’s why.

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Climate Progress

According to a  Swiss study, “the larger the (wind) turbine is, the greener the electricity becomes.” The study claims that for every doubling of the size of the turbine, “global warming potential per kWh (is) reduced by 14 per cent.”

The study was conducted by Marloes Caduff and his associates at the Zurich Institute of Environmental Engineering in Zurich, Switzerland.

Caduff et al. claim that there are two main reasons for the benefits of larger turbines. First, producers, now with decades of experience under their belts, are better at creating the massive blades, supports and motors. They “now have the knowledge, experience and technology to build big wind turbines with great efficiency.”

Second, recent advances in materials have allowed the turbines to dramatically increase in size without a corresponding increase in mass. That way, blades can be larger and capture much more wind while the tower and other parts can remain unchanged.

According to the researchers, the combined effects of these reasons allow for bigger and better turbines to be produced without using significantly more materials or drastically increasing transportation and assembly costs. The increased size of the turbines actually saves materials by reducing the number of total turbines needed to produce the same amount of power.

Wind energy is one of the fastest growing sources of energy on the planet and source of pride for alternative energy supporters. It now supplies about 2 per cent of global energy needs and that number could rise as high as 10 per cent by 2020. In the calender year 2011 alone , the global power capacity from wind increased by40,654 MW.

A recent study out of the UK indicated that the costs of off shore wind production could drop by up to one-third by the end of the decade.

If accurate, the study indicates that the general trend in the wind industry over the last 30 years has been the correct one.

In the 1970′s Vestas, the worlds leading wind manufacturer, released a turbine capable of producing 33KW of energy. The turbine had a blade diameter of 10 meters. Right now, Vestas’ top of the line turbine, an off shore model called the V164-7.oMW can generate, fittingly, 7.0 MW of energy and has a massive 80 meter blade length. The capacity for turbines like the V164-7.0MW has only developed recently and it seems certain that bigger and more powerful wind producers will be possible in the future.

The revelation that bigger is better in the world of turbine efficiency is bound to surprise some people. Paul Gipe, a wind expert and author of 7 books on the subject, was quoted a couple of years ago questioning the increased size trend: “The wind turbines don’t really need to get any larger. They’re big enough. There’s sometimes this obsession with going bigger and bigger and it’s not necessarily the size turbine that matters as much.”

According to Gipe, the most important developments in the history of wind power have been technological, things such as variable speed generation and electronics that allow engineers greater control, not blind increases in size. Now however, scientists and engineers have the ability to combine sophisticated controls and advanced technologies with absolutely massive turbines, thereby maximizing the efficiency and power generation from wind sources with a myriad of positive effects.

Max Frankel is a senior at Vassar College and an intern at the Center For American Progress

This article was originally published on Climate Progress – thinkprogress.org/climate. Reproduced with permission

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5 Comments
  1. Gary06 8 years ago

    This article relates an engineering and economic dream, of bigger is always better. No reference to the experiences of those living near the turbines, and ignoring the scale of the ecological risk, as the industry has expanded. David and Alida Mortimer on Today tonight confirming that residents on properties hosting turbines do get sick – http://www.todaytonightadelaide.com.au/?page=Story&StoryID=1394. Also reference to wind turbine syndrome that is potentially related to the size of the turbines, ignored. See a recent article by Nina Piermont on the Australian experience; http://www.windturbinesyndrome.com/2012/there-are-a-growing-number-of-wind-farm-refugees-in-this-country-australia-senator/?var=cna.
    Post-installation observational studies by those with vested interests, are referring only turbine action that is designed to boost sales, rather than to make any genuine attempt to assess its risks and benefits. Just building bigger is ignoring the risks associated with fallout that increases too. Posthumous studies are not being undertaken by independent authorities or reports scrutinised by publically funded agencies such as EPAs. Indeed Senator John Madigan put out a press release to mark the anniversary of the release of the Federal Senate Inquiry recommendations describing the current situation – not one of the recommendations has yet been implemented by any State or Federal government or noise pollution regulatory authority; http://www.wind-watch.org/news/2012/06/22/one-year-on-but-no-progress-made/. This absence of any lead for public interest being on the table, is leaving sponsoring companies free to tinker with their statistical analysis, report results selectively, and generally do everything they can to promote positive messages about their product while downplaying any less advantageous findings. The discussion would be more complete if it was about the fact that growing the size of turbines, is also about growing the risks in local areas, and for what?

    • Ben Courtice 8 years ago

      There are also people who claim wi-fi from smart meters is making them sick. In actual fact, modern turbines tend to be quieter than old ones. The most advanced turbine designs have no gearbox, which eliminates a major potential source of low frequency noise. The “risk” to health is only from noise; infrasound from turbines is at a low level that’s not dangerous to health (similar to infrasound from a beach).

      The big difference of course is in turbine height. Bigger turbines can be visible from further away. But whether you look at a 80m tower or a 110m tower they all look pretty large; the relative increase isn’t so much and wouldn’t normally stand out unless you put the one next to the other.

      But then we’re getting into not liking the look of them. As Damian Carrington has pointed out, that’s probably the one really true, verifiable objection to wind farms.
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2012/jun/21/wind-power-subsidies

      Possibly with genuine complaints about noise in particular instances, I would add.

      • Chris Fraser 8 years ago

        How about the look of them, though ? It’s great to see them while driving through Bungendore. They look better and less bulky than cooling towers. For others that don’t like the appearance, there could be a dissonance between accepting that we consume and rely on energy, and yet can’t accept that we need to also generate it.

        I might agree entirely with the objectors if i was not used to change. If I was some yodeling country squire looking out on my broadacre domain, even I might have got used to the look of treeless paddocks (which ironically, attract better wind). Though wanting someone else to generate energy is like saying I like roast lamb, but don’t want to slaughter and butcher defenseless animals myself.

    • Richard Koser 8 years ago

      Gary, you’ll find your objections about the health risks have been dealt with on this website, repeatedly and recently. I’d rather live next door to a wind turbine than a coal or nuclear power station.

      • Bert 8 years ago

        Gary your points are sensationalist conspiracy theory nonsense. How would windfarms cause chickens not to have yolks? That doesn’t make any sense.

        I’d be fine with living next to a nuclear plant or a windfarm, a solar farm. Certainly not a coal plant.

        FYI Nuclear plants give off no significant amounts of radiation and the newer plants are getting even more safe than they already are, they are already quite safe. Not to mention new technologies which make Nuclear fool proof and have a smaller footprint.

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