GE has recently announced plans to launch the world’s largest wind turbine, dubbed the Haliade-X. GE has lagged behind other competitors for the past few years, losing the race for the largest and highest capacity wind turbines to Danish Manufacturer Vestas. This move signals the company’s commitment to the off shore wind market, which has been growing rapidly in recent years.
Driven by the desire to simplify the management and increase the profitability of offshore wind, manufacturers have been steadily increasing the size their turbines, with increases in generation capacity, and the heights of the towers and area needed around each turbine. The figure below demonstrates the size and capacity of some of the world’s largest turbines, as well as the recently announced Haliade X.
Tower height and clearance would be serious limiting factors for onshore wind, but offshore, space is at much less of a premium, and economics favour larger turbines. This is because larger, higher capacity turbines can have more reliable and steady access winds due to their higher altitude. It also means fewer turbines per wind farm, which results in lower set up costs, as there are fewer towers and transmission lines required.
Ongoing operation and maintenance costs can also be reduced significantly. However, because each turbine is proportionally much larger, the risks of each fault or a failure become more significant. The increased risk, and value, per turbine also means that investment in better control systems, sensors, and communication systems per turbine becomes more appealing. Furthermore, investment in critical communications infrastructure, and better asset management, outage management and maintenance approaches because much more easy to justify across the entire wind farm. The prevalence of bigger turbines is also likely to boost more advanced risk-based asset monitoring and maintenance and boost the investment in IoT systems. It is also likely to drive further investment in technologies like private LTE, digital radio, other types of wireless networking to support maintenance, operations, asset management and critical voice communications within the wind farms. Wind farm operators have little choice but to build their own networks, since their locations make access to wired infrastructure or existing services impossible, while the requirement for connectivity across different use cases is increasing, as total wind farm size, and the size of individual turbines ramps up.