ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno
China has built the world's largest wind turbine. With gigantic 128-metre blades, it is capable of sweeping an area the size of seven football pitches. It is a wind-engineering behemoth designed to generate enough electricity to power 40,000 homes a year. We investigate the technologies behind this feat of engineering and its potential to accelerate the transition to clean energy.
Energy to power 40,000 homes
The prototype wind turbine was unveiled at an event in the Dongying City Industrial Park in Shandong Province in eastern China, according to a statement released by CSSC Haizhuang, a subsidiary of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation. The company boasts that the global offshore wind power industry has reached "a new milestone": "The H260-18MW turbine will make a great contribution to improving the capacity and efficiency of wind turbines, as well as reducing the LCOE [levelized cost of energy] of offshore wind farms."
This giant 18MW machine will power a modularised geared drivetrain and permanent magnet generator, according to Recharge. "Under full wind speed, 44.8 kilowatt hours of electricity can be generated per revolution, and a single turbine can generate more than 74 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year, which provides enough power for 40,000 households for a year," says CSSC Haizhuang. In theory, this turbine "reduces coal consumption by 25,000 tonnes per year and carbon dioxide emissions by 61,000 tonnes."
China is building the world's largest offshore wind turbines. Credit: CSSC Haizhuang
A turbine of monstrous dimensions
This turbine is equipped with a "holographic sensing system" to control and reduce the overall load and curb blade flutter, minimising vibrations in the turbine’s tower and foundations by 50%. The most striking feature of the turbine is its stratospheric size. Its 128-metre blades sweep an area of 53,000 square metres—the equivalent of seven football (soccer) pitches. With these dimensions, it has eclipsed giant turbines from companies such as China Three Gorges, Goldwind, Siemens Gamesa, Vestas and General Electric.
When it comes to wind, size matters, as the New Atlas website points out. The longer the blades, the greater the swept area and the more energy that can be harvested from a single tower. In the case of offshore wind energy, it is important to remember that installing foundations on the seabed can be very costly and have an impact on marine life.
The impact of offshore wind farms on marine life
Madeline Taylor, deputy director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resource Innovation and Transformation (CENRIT) at Macquarie University in Australia, says offshore wind farms can affect marine ecosystems. "Underwater noise during construction can displace some species, cause auditory injury to nearby mammals and fish, and interfere with the echolocation of animals such as porpoises," she says in The Conversation.
Wind farms can affect marine ecosystems. Credit: CSSC Haizhuang
For all these reasons, the goal is to produce more energy from fewer sites. According to CSSC Haizhuang, this new 18 MW turbine will reduce the number of units needed for a 1 GW project, from 64 turbines required for the 16 MW model to only 55 turbines, saving around 100 million yen (around 13 million euros) in construction costs.
Although building such offshore wind infrastructure is still a major investment, construction costs have fallen by 50% worldwide over the past decade, according to Taylor. China aspires to lead the industry, with more and more companies trying to build record-breaking turbines. In fact, CSSC’s wind turbine record may already have been broken by another Chinese company, Mingyang Smart Energy, which in January unveiled a gargantuan 140-metre blade for its new MySE 18.X-28X wind turbine, marking an increase in turbine size that appears to have no limit for the time being.
But other major powers such as the United States and various European countries are also interested and do not want to be left behind, knowing that offshore wind resources are "abundant, strong and consistent." While the growth of offshore wind is expected to accelerate in the coming years, we will have to wait and see how this and other colossal turbines will develop in the energy sector.
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