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Old Posted Aug 27, 2018, 3:29 AM
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The Race to Build a Wind Behemoth

By Erin Ailworth
Aug. 24, 2018 9:00 a.m. ET

Some of the world’s top manufacturing companies are embroiled in a fierce competition. The contest: Who can build the most powerful offshore wind turbine?

From General Electric Co. to Siemens AG to MHI Vestas Offshore Wind, industrial giants are racing to build skyscraper-size turbines that can generate 10 megawatts apiece or more, a symbolic threshold for the wind industry. The more powerful the turbine, the cheaper it can generate electricity from a single location, generally speaking.

The prize in this engineering derby could be dominance over a multibillion-dollar offshore wind market that is set to boom in coming decades—notably in the U.S., where the Atlantic coast beckons as an ideal location for large-scale wind generation.

“There’s a kind of arms race under way,” says Aaron Barr, a principal consultant with research firm Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

Offshore wind turbines have been growing larger for years as companies develop bigger and bolder designs. That’s helped steadily lower the price of generating power from wind.

When the first offshore wind farm, Vindeby, was commissioned in shallow waters off Denmark in 1991, its 450-kilowatt turbines stood 52.5 meters tall and had blades 16 meters long (or about 170 feet tall and 52 feet long). The turbines were designed by a company that’s now part of Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy , in which Siemens has a majority stake.

Vindeby’s 11 turbines, decommissioned last year, would be lilliputians compared with the mammoth machines now being built. According to the Global Wind Energy Council, the average offshore turbine installed in 2017 was a 5.9-megawatt (or 5,900 kilowatt) machine. GE’s model of around that size, 6 megawatts, is 170 meters tall.

The most powerful turbine currently in existence, MHI Vestas’s V164 prototype, is capable of generating 9.5-megawatts of electricity, and is 187 meters tall, or roughly twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. Its 80-meter-long blades stretch nearly 12 meters farther than the wingspan of a Boeing 747 . . . .

But it was GE that made the biggest splash when it announced plans for a 12-megawatt turbine in March. Known as the Haliade-X, it would stand nearly three times as tall as the Statue of Liberty and harness wind with blades that sweep an area the size of seven football fields. If it were to be installed on a typical German North Sea site, GE estimates the machine could generate enough power to supply 16,000 European households . . . .

GE is developing these monsters not just for Europe but also potentially for installation up and down the US east coast.
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