​Wind turbines bigger than jumbo jets seen growing even larger

Wind turbines that already are starting to make the biggest jumbo jetliners look small can grow larger yet, according to the chief executive officer of the company that has made more of the machines than any other.

Anders Runevad of the Danish manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems A/S said there’s no limits to the scale of turbines designed to work offshore, where bigger blades are used to harness steadier breezes and provide more stable returns for developers than land-based facilities.

The same applies to onshore turbine technology, with no “clear end” to how high towers can grow or the size of rotors and the overall capacity of the machines to generate electricity, the executive said in an interview in Copenhagen on Thursday.

“From a technical point of view I don’t see limitations on size of turbines and rating,” Runevad said. “It’s much more of a business case. Can you get a return on investment in much bigger turbines? I mean, theoretically of course, somewhere in the future that path will slow down, but currently actually we don’t see that.”

The largest commercially available offshore turbine is made by the joint venture partnership between the Aarhus, Denmark-based Vestas and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. Each 80-meter blade weighs 35 tons and has a swept area larger than the London Eye tourist attraction. A single blade is longer than the wingspan of the Airbus A380 passenger jetliner.

Runevad was speaking after unveiling a new turbine platform that’ll allow Vestas to use fewer, more standardized components in its manufacturing process. That will allow the company to make the machines easier to customize and cheaper to build.

The new turbine system — called Eventus — is a platform of common components that will initially focus on onshore models with a V162-5.6 megawatt turbine. That will allow for 26 percent higher annual energy production compared with the previous 4.2-megawatt model. A prototype is expected to be installed in mid-2020, and another turbine will be installed from the second half of this year.

“We have a clear objective to lower the levelized cost of energy faster than the market and of course to do that we feel that this is the platform that we can live up to those requirements,” Runevad said.

The global offshore wind market will grow sevenfold in the next 10 years with cumulative installations reaching 154 gigawatts by 2030, according to research by BloombergNEF. MHI Vestas closed deals on 1.8 gigawatts in the U.K. for its 9.5-megawatt model alone.

“If you look at the next 10 years, the big opportunity for us is it to substitute coal,” Runevad said. “We can replace coal with the biggest impact on the climate positively, and it’s also the biggest potential. Generation sources that are flexible — like gas — and low cost are definitely a good combination with renewable energy for the time being.”

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P

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