Vestas’ recent announcement that it was creating (ever lower) low wind versions of its V110 2MW turbine, highlights two points.
Firstly, the market for low wind turbines is greater than ever.
And this is despite the fact that numerous high wind projects are coming to the end of their lifespan. It is evidently easier to extend the life of an 850kW turbine than redevelop the site with 2-3MW machines.
Secondly, innovations in blade design have increased the potential for wind turbines to operate on low wind sites.
The Vestas V110 2MW was originally launched back in 2013 for the US market. In fact, I was the one who actually broke the story about it while working for Windpower Monthly.
It was a replacement for the V100 2MW. In the US, there has been a tendency to use 1.5-2MW turbines as opposed to the 3MWs in the Europe. This is largely due to lower wind speeds and more space.
At the time, the V110 was a brand new platform, which is something of a rarity now. Although, in the 2000s and early 2010s there were continual announcements about new designs.
Now there are increasingly newer versions of existing models with higher towers, better drivetrains, and longer blades.
It is worth remembering an interview I did with former Siemens’ CTO Henrik Stiesdal a few years ago.
In it, he made the point that other industries have had a period of exponential growth before hitting the incremental line.
Two examples were jet aircraft and crude oil tankers.
In terms of aircraft, the barrier was maximum take-off weight, which continually rose up until the launch Boeing 747. From then on growth was incremental.
There are two basic factors:
1. The length of time to get people on and off the plane
2. The length of the runway to allow the bigger aircraft to take-off.
Onshore logistics and transport have been the wind turbine’s version of a runway.
Moving any component (blade/ tower) beyond 60-metres in length is becoming a problem. Especially, as many wind farms are in remote areas or at higher altitudes.
This is one reason why the growth curve has slowed down.
The other issue is investment. This is a separate topic but investors have always liked familiar technology.
By that, I don’t mean reliable technology. Yes, reliability is good. But more than that, investors like a known quantity.
This is another reason why turbine design has stopped evolving.
Of course, there is still innovation. For example, Enercon’s move to create low wind machine above 4MW.
Yet, for the most part, European onshore wind will remain around 3MW for some time to come.