Market Insights

As Wind Turbines Get Bigger, Industry Trouble Blows In

July 13, 2023 by Kevin Clemens

The industry is having its ups and downs—and it’s bad news for a world counting on wind power to combat climate change.

In the same week that the fourth largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world, Chinese Goldwind, announced it was installing the world’s largest turbine off China’s Fujian Province, the world’s second-largest wind turbine manufacturer Siemens Energy sent out a warning that quality problems at its wind turbine unit would take years to fix. Overnight, the announcement reduced Siemens’ market value by a third and placed in doubt the ability of the industry to supply the necessary hardware to combat climate change effectively. 

 

China’s first offshore wind turbine

China’s first offshore wind turbine was successfully hoisted off the coast of Pingtan, Fujian. Image used courtesy of China Three Gorges Corporation 

 

The Wind Industry

Wind and solar are two of the fastest-growing renewable sources in the world. In the United States, wind energy is currently the largest source of renewable electricity generation, while solar energy is the second largest.

The growth of wind energy is good news, as wind is a clean and renewable energy source. Wind energy produces no emissions and does not contribute to air pollution or climate change. It also creates jobs, many of them local, and boosts local economies. Wind farm construction and operation create jobs manufacturing, installing, and operating wind turbines.  

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) predicts wind energy will grow significantly in the next five, ten, and 15 years.

  • In 5 years, the IRENA projects that global wind power capacity will increase by 50 percent, reaching 1.7 terawatts (TW).
  • In 10 years, the IRENA projects that global wind power capacity will increase by 150 percent, reaching 4.0 TW.
  • In 15 years, the IRENA projects that global wind power capacity will increase by 250 percent, reaching 7.5 TW.

 

How Wind Turbines Work

Wind turbines convert kinetic energy provided by the wind into electrical energy. They have three main components: the rotor, the nacelle, and the tower. The rotor is the most visible part of the wind turbine, consisting of three blades attached to a hub. The nacelle is the housing that contains the generator and other electrical equipment. The tower must be tall enough to allow the blades to rotate without hitting the ground and robust enough to withstand severe weather conditions. 

A wind turbine’s efficiency is determined by blade shape and size, wind speed, and generator design. Modern wind turbines are efficient and can convert up to 60% of the wind's energy into electricity.

 

The Future of Wind Energy Technology

The technology of wind turbines is constantly evolving. Recent advances have focused on improving the efficiency of wind turbines, reducing their cost, and making them more reliable. One of the most promising research areas is the development of offshore wind turbines. Offshore wind turbines can generate more electricity than onshore and are less affected by noise and visual pollution.

Here are some of the key technological advancements driving wind energy growth:

  • Larger, more efficient wind turbines.
  • Wind forecasting technology improvements.
  • New materials for wind turbine blades.
  • The development of offshore wind farms.

 

Bigger Is Better

Goldwind has taken the concept of really big turbines to heart. Working with China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG), Goldwind is installing a 16-megawatt (MW) turbine at Zhangpu Liuao wind farm. Phase two of the 400 MW Zhangpu Liuao offshore wind farm will produce about 1.6 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity per year. The $885 million project is located in China’s Fujian Province. 

The turbine has a rotor diameter of 252 meters (827 feet). It has a swept area of around 50,000 square meters (538,195 square feet), and the turbine’s hub is 146 meters (479 feet) high.

The 16 MW turbine can generate 34.2 kWh of electricity on each revolution, producing more than 66 GWh of clean electricity per year, according to CTG.

 

Manufacturing Defects at Gamesa

Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy SA is the world’s second-largest wind turbine maker, operating as Siemens Energy AG’s wind turbine unit. In January of this year, the company noted having problems with some of its wind turbines. Now, Siemens Energy has admitted that, following a review of the company’s “failure rates of wind turbine components,” it found much bigger problems than originally expected. 

The problems are manufacturing defects that include flaws in rotor blades and bearings that could result in anything from small cracks to component failures requiring the replacement of the entire turbine. The company says the problems may affect up to 15-30% of the more than 132 gigawatts of turbine capacity it has installed worldwide. Many of these turbines are installed offshore, making repair or replacement much more difficult. 

Siemens Energy’s problems mean that it will need to concentrate its efforts on its manufacturing issues and repairing the defective turbines rather than on the growth of its capacity—this at a time when orders for new wind turbines are at record levels for the industry.