Wind Test and Validation Centers: a strategic resource

Blades of more than 100m, 10MW generators, 160m towers…the wind industry never ceases to surprise us with the technological race towards larger, more powerful and more reliable turbines. And one of the key pieces in this spectacular evolution are the test and validation centers where new turbines and their components are tested and certified.

These facilities are not usually in the news and go quite unnoticed, but they are essential in the process of developing a turbine. That is why countries that aspire to build a powerful wind industry have as one of their priorities to have this type of state-of-the-art centers to attract the part of the supply chain with the highest added value and technological content. As they are a strategic asset, they are usually a public initiative as part of a country’s R&D infrastructure.

The main manufacturers have certain testing and validation capabilities of their own, especially for key elements of their technology, but they rely on external centers to do most of the validation process. SiemensGamesa, through Vicente García Muñoz and his team, is the manufacturer that is making the strongest commitment to having its own validation facilities. In 2019, it announced the construction of a blade test bench in Aalborg (Denmark) that will be the largest in the world and has recently achieved the first IECRE accreditation for a private blade test bench. With this, it seems that the company wants to avoid making its offshore development plans dependent on the availability of the few blade test beds of more than 100m in the world.

In addition, SGRE has advanced test benches for its various key components such as the generator bench at Gamesa Electric for units up to 10MW.

But these investments can only be afforded by large companies such as SiemensGamesa or Vestas, and even they work mostly with external test centers. The advantages are clear:

Cost reduction since you only pay for the use of the facilities

Highly specialized staff in the centers that allows for time reduction and more advanced testing

Access to very large test benches. If the test stands were of each manufacturer, the evolution in size would have the limitation of the test stand since it could not be updated as fast as the growth of the product

On the contrary, the only drawback is that there can be problems of availability from certain banks and that can delay the time-to-market but as we will see now, there is quite a lot of supply and the tests are planned months or even years in advance

Let’s take a look at some of the world’s leading test centers:

1) Fraunhofer IWES in Germany

It is the reference center in Germany. They have a wide range of tests but the jewel of the facility is the DyNaLab where complete nacelles up to 10MW can be validated. In fact, it was in this center where the Adwen 8-180 was validated as well as the GE Cypress platform.

Another unique feature of this center is that it has its own test turbine. In particular, it is the first and only prototype of the Adwen 8MW-180m machine which was once the most powerful turbine on the market and is now operating in the port of Bremerhaven, right next to the IWES facilities.

Recently, Fraunhofer announced the expansion of its facilities aimed at electrical and network code testing, including a new generator test bed for units up to 9MW and the possibility of testing systems at 66kV that will be mainstreamed into offshore in a few years.

2) Narec (ORE-Catapult) in UK

It is probably the most advanced test center at present. It is totally oriented to the development of offshore turbines and therefore its capacities and dimensions are spectacular:

15MW power train bench where recently the complete nacelle of the GE Haliade-X 12MW has been validated

Blade test bench for blades over 100m, where the 107m blade of the Haliade-X has been tested

Turbine operating at 7MW and 171m rotor: it is actually the prototype that Samsung built of its offshore turbine, a product that it later abandoned and sold to ORE Catapult.

3) DTU-Risoe and LORC in Denmark

Both are among the oldest centers and are therefore in the process of renewal. In fact, what will be the world’s largest complete nacelle test bed for testing 20MW turbines is already under construction at LORC. It is clear that Denmark does not want to lose the technological leadership and therefore bets strongly on this center.

DTU-Risoe, on the other hand, is more specialized in operational validation (it has 2 experimental wind farms with 16 positions in total) and in blade testing (bench for blades up to 45m).

Although its facilities are lagging behind in terms of size and capacity, the technology center remains the most advanced and influential in the wind world

It should be noted that LORC is based on the association of the main Danish players in the sector such as Vestas and SiemensGamesa, which shows that collaboration between competitors is possible and can benefit the sector as a whole.

4) Clemson in the USA

This case is curious because it is a 15MW power train test facility belonging to Clemson University in Tennessee. In addition to this bench where the MHI-Vestas 9.5MW-164m gearbox has been tested, it has another “smaller” 7.5MW bench where GE turbine power trains have been tested.

5) Cener in Spain

Center that was opened in 2008 in Sangüesa (Navarra) and was a reference at the time with facilities for testing blades of up to 75m and 5MW power trains. It was a key part in the technological development of Spanish manufacturers, especially Gamesa, which has made intensive use of its facilities for almost all its new developments (starting with the G10X).

One of Cener’s strong points is its experimental wind farm in the Alaiz mountains with 5 positions for turbines of up to 5 MW, which has enabled many models of both Gamesa and Acciona to be validated and certified. It is perhaps the only experimental wind farm in complex terrain in the world, a fact that has been a differential when it comes to validating turbines designed for strong winds and complex sites.

With the current onshore turbines that reach 6MW and have blades over 80m, Cener is lagging behind as a reference center and if Spain wants to continue being a pole of knowledge and wind development, it would be very important to update its facilities and prepare them for the new generation turbines.