Breaking-record wind turbines

The recent announcement of SiemensGamesa’s new 14MW offshore turbine and 222m rotor is the latest chapter in the history of technological breakthroughs that the wind industry has become used to. Year after year we continue to be surprised by how far wind engineering can go and no one dares to set a limit to the growth in size, power and reliability of wind turbines anymore.

For all the lovers of the Guinness Book of Records, here is my particular selection of turbines that, for one reason or another, are worthy of going to the wind power Olympus.

  1. The most powerful in operation: Haliade 12X-220

With a prototype already installed and in operation since Nov-19 in the port of Rotterdam, GE can be proud of having the most powerful turbine by nominal capacity (12MW) and the largest rotor (220m). And this privileged position will keep it at least until 2022 when the SiemensGamesa prototype is installed, which will reach 15MW and 222m of rotor.

Its dimensions are colossal: 107m blade (in one piece), 20m long nacelle, 10m high and 600t weight…

  1. The tallest tower: Max Bogl Tower 178m (Gailord Park in Germany)

This is a unique project, not only because it has the tallest wind towers ever built, but also because it is part of a project to store energy in giant water tanks that are filled with wind power and discharged into hydraulic generators

They are concrete towers with pre-constructed sections and subsequently installed on site and the turbines installed on these towers are GE3.4-117 (it seems that GE is into records).

This project is in operation since the end of 2017 but we don’t know how long this record will last since there are many projects and tower concepts around 200m like Nabrawind in Spain.

  1. The most installed in the world: GE1.5 series

GE again on the hunt for a new record. In this case, it is quite debatable because as there are product platforms that are launching models with different rotors and evolved technologies, depending on how we set the criteria, there would be several candidates as the 2.0MW of Vestas.

But if we look at the most installed model without major design changes and based on the same concept, I think the GE1.5 is the clear winner. Already in 2009, GE announced that more than 12,000 units had been installed and in 2015 it was published that 15,000 units had been reached. For many years, GE was a single-product company whose turbines were well suited to the US market and where they were installed massively. Who does not remember the rotors 70, 77 and 82m.

The history of this model is closely linked to the birth of the wind industry in the USA. One of the pioneers of the sector, Jim Dehlsen, founded Zond energy which was later acquired by Enron. During that time, money flowed smoothly and Zond/Enron bought the German technologist Tacke. It was with Tacke’s technology that the 1.5MW was designed. In 2002 the Enron scandal exploded and GE bought the wind part, including the 1.5MW machine that would be their star product from that moment on. Going back to Jim Dehlsen, this name probably sounds familiar to many of you as years later he would found Clipper Wind.

  1. The largest floating turbine: Vestas V164-8.4 MW on WindFloat Atlantic

Finally GE’s record-breaking dictatorship is broken. The WindFloat project recently installed on the Portuguese coast comprises 3 Vestas turbines of 8.4MW and 164m rotor which are located on a floating structure in an area of 100m depth. It is a joint project of Principle Power, Vestas, EDP, Repsol and Engie and among the suppliers is the Spanish company Navantia.

We will see if the next Equinor Hywind Tampen project, which will initially have 11 units of SG8.0-167, in addition to taking away the record for the largest rotor, also keeps the record for nominal power through some machine uprate.

  1. The turbine with the most hours in operation: TVind-Kraft with 42 years in operation

This is another record that is difficult to confirm but this model deserves a few lines.

It was installed in 1978 and was a community project that was born in the school of TVind (Denmark). The curious thing is that, a mastodontic and revolutionary project for the time could be carried out thanks to an effort of pseudo-amateur volunteers.

The turbine produces almost 1MW of power and has a 54m rotor. The original generator was almost 2 MW but it was later found that with the blades installed and the control, it was not going to be possible to reach the speed of rotation necessary to achieve that power and it was limited to 900kW. This model was a forerunner of the so-called Danish concept that was later developed by Vestas and Bonus with great success. As a curiosity, Vestas and Gamesa would have many years later a model G52-850kW almost identical in size to the TVind.

The turbine still works as a pride for the whole Danish wind industry and although almost all the components have had to be replaced and renewed, it can be said that it is the longest lasting modern turbine in the world

  1. The most special design: EcoSwing in Denmark

In this section we could have included some other finalists like the Clipper Liberty 2.5MW with its modular drive train or LeitWind with its tower observation deck design.

But recently I have seen this model and I found it very special and bold: a two-blade turbine with partial blade pitch and electrical elements “hanging” from the tower. And if that wasn’t enough, with the world’s first superconductive generator

The turbine is the Envision 3.6MW-128m, a direct drive model that was originally equipped with a permanent magnet generator but, as part of the European EcoSwing R&D project, has been replaced by a superconductive generator. The advantages of a superconductive generator are clear: it has no electrical resistance when working at very low temperatures so its dimensions and weight are reduced and it does not have any losses. This is a field on which a great deal of work has been done and on which manufacturers such as Gamesa or entities such as Tecnalia, through the European SupraPower project, have developed prototypes but have never reached the market. It is possible that when designing the next generation of 20MW offshore turbines, this technology will have to be used, but for the moment, PMG generators have proved to be very competitive even in 15MW designs.

  1. The most powerful onshore turbine: Enercon E-126 7.5MW

Okay, I have to admit that this category is tailor-made for the E-126 but I just couldn’t close the post without including this industry legend. 7.5MW with a rotor of only 127m (592 W/m2 power density!! when the current offshore models are around 350 W/m2) This model is the evolution of the mythical E-112 4.5MW that was born in 2002 and, given its cost, there was no way to sell it. Given Enercon’s design, the easiest thing was to grow the generator and the E112-6 MW was launched in 2005 which also did not succeed. It was in 2010 when the third generation with the largest rotor and power was launched and this one did sell a little more (although I doubt it was particularly profitable).

The big issue of this model is that everything, except the blades, was giant (and therefore very expensive): only the generator weighed 220t. I remember that at the time, Enercon announced that a special crane had been manufactured to assemble this model.

Many parallels have been made between this model and the also mythical Gamesa G10X but I don’t think they are fair. The E112 was an engineering feat without any sense of market, while the G10X was much closer to commercial success and its design, as demonstrated years later, was appropriate for the new generation of onshore turbines. But this would make for another post…

Many models have been left out that surely deserved to be in the Olympics of turbines so I reserve them for a second part. At the speed this industry is evolving, I’m afraid I’ll have to review this ranking every few years.