Maximising returns from a wind turbine typically means locating it in an exposed place – on the top of a hill or increasingly out at sea. Developing equipment to access these locations has emerged as an industry in its own right.
“Wind power is leading the charge in the transition away from fossil fuels, and continues to blow away the competition on price, performance and reliability,” declares Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council. Dramatic falls in price have sparked rapid market growth. 2017 saw 52.6GW of additional wind power installations around the world, bringing the cumulative total capacity to 539.3GW. All this activity has created its own industry in construction and logistics services.
The fastest growing wind segment is offshore, with 18,814 MW of installed capacity in 17 markets around the world in 2017. This trend is set to continue, predicts Aleksi Minchev, marine and port operations specialist at UK-based global freight mangement firm WWL ALS.
The UK is a leader here, with just over 36 per cent of this offshore capacity.
The typical wind turbine comprises 8,000 parts that have to be transported to their final installation site. Turbine components are being delivered and assembled in increasingly remote places including high-altitude locations in the Rocky Mountains or extreme environments such as the deep waters of the North Sea.
Compounding these already tough logistical challenges is the increasing size and weight of turbines, particularly in offshore locations. The typical offshore 4.1MW turbine with a 90-metre hub height is set to be surpassed by 11MW colossi with hubs 125m above sea level and blades spanning 190m. Their blade tips will scythe the air, at a height two-thirds that of the Empire State building in New York.
Moving turbine components of this size by road, rail or even by ship is truly challenging and has not only encouraged wind turbine manufacturers to shift their production facilities to the ports, according to Minchev, but also sparked a number of innovations in shifting and lifting equipment.