Tech Insights

Doing More With Less: How Shell Is Increasing Wind Capacity

May 03, 2024 by Shannon Cuthrell

Shell is producing more wind power with fewer turbines. EEPower spoke with them to understand their strategy. 

Shell’s 21-year-old Brazos Wind Farm in Texas just got a significant upgrade. Anna Arata of Shell's U.S. media relations office told EEPower the company replaced 160 old turbines with 38 high-capacity 4.8 MW models, thus reducing the site’s physical footprint while raising capacity by 14% from 160 MW to 182.4 MW. 

The 10,000-acre wind farm first became operational in late 2003 and has since served power to 48,000 homes. Thanks to advanced wind turbines from German manufacturer Nordex, the upgrade extends this reach to 67,000 homes. 

 

The Brazos Wind Farm in Fluvanna, Texas

The Brazos Wind Farm in Fluvanna, Texas. Image used courtesy of Diamond WTG Engineering and Services.

 

Next-Gen Wind Tech

According to EPC contractor and Brazos Wind Farm developer Cielo Wind, the site previously comprised 160 units of Mitsubishi’s MHI 1000A turbines. The repower effort swapped those units out for Nordex 5 MW turbines. About 2,100 tons of fiberglass from the 160 decommissioned blades will be recycled for asphalt, concrete, composites, or bulk molding products. Arata told EEPower these materials would not re-enter its supply chain.  

The new turbines are likely part of Nordex’s latest next-generation Delta4000 platform, offering larger turbine components to boost production outputs. Nordex also added optimized features like a high-speed gearbox and design modifications for better reliability and serviceability in areas with medium to strong winds. The 5 MW option, N163/5.X, supports cut-in wind speeds of 3 meters per second (m/s) and cut-out speeds up to 26 m/s.

N163/5.X boasts 20% higher annual energy production and increased efficiency from larger rotors with a 534-foot diameter across a 224,610-square-foot area and taller hubs reaching up to 538 feet, depending on the project. These factors raise each unit’s rated output. The fourth-generation series also reduces maintenance requirements over the turbines’ service life. 

 

Inside Nordex’s Delta4000 wind turbine.

Inside Nordex’s Delta4000 wind turbine. Image used courtesy of Nordex

 

The Brazos repower project added other technologies, too, including improved remote monitoring and data integration to increase the site’s reliability. 

Spanish equipment supplier Arteche provided two 31 MVAR Type C filters at a 138 kV voltage, mounted on galvanized steel structures. Type C filters address issues with harmonic distortion, which stems from the nonlinear loads inherent in renewable energy production. Harmonic resonance can impact plants’ power factor and performance

 

Shell’s On-Shore Wind Landscape

Brazos reopened a few months after Shell sold a partial stake to InfraRed Capital Partners, a U.K.-based investment management firm. The portfolio included a 60% stake in Brazos—leaving Shell as a 40% owner and operator—and 50% of the 180 MW Madison Fields solar farm in Ohio. Shell retains 100% of the power offtake from Brazos, selling electricity at wholesale to third parties within the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’s territory.  

The deal represents a dilution strategy to divest ownership in power projects while maintaining access via offtake agreements. 

Shell has a handful of on-shore wind sites in the U.S. It co-owns the 61.5 MW Whitewater Hill wind farm with Terra-Gen in California and another 41 MW project in the San Gorgonio Pass. Each plant produces power for 12,000 homes. 

Shell targets net-zero emissions by 2050 across its energy business, including in its operations and the electricity and fuels sold to customers.