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OWOE - Wind Power - What are the key technology advances impacting wind energy production?
  Figure 1 - Plot of Average Nameplate Capacity, Hub Height, and Rotor Diameter (Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy)
Figure 1 - Plot of Average Nameplate Capacity, Hub Height, and Rotor Diameter (Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy)
Figure 2 - Yearly installed average capacity of offshore wind turbines (WindEurope)
Figure 3 - Illustration of increasing turbine heights and blades lengths over time. (Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy)
What are the key technology advances impacting wind energy production?
Topic updated: 2022-12-31

There are several key technological advancements that support continued and strong wind power growth. The most obvious changes associated with the physical scaling of the standard wind turbine design - hub height, and rotor diameter - have resulted in significant increases in the average turbine nameplate capacity, leading to increases in wind power at lower cost per kWh. Additionally, technological advancements in the areas of alternative rotor configurations, alternative blade designs, component efficiency, smart controls, material selection, and construction and manufacturing process have contributed to the continual increases in size and capacity of turbines and reduction in cost over the years. This is a trend that has occurred throughout the past two decades (see Figure 1). For example, the average nameplate capacity of newly installed onshore turbines in 2013 was 1.87 megawatts (MW), up 162% since 1999. In 2022 the average installed turbine had a 3 MW capacity, up 400% since 1999. Similarly, average hub height and rotor diameters have increased significantly. Currently, the largest onshore turbines in the world having nameplate capacities over 7 MW, including the Vestas 7.2MW V172 turbine rated at 7.2 MW and Enercon's E126 turbine at 7.58 MW.

Such increases have allowed wind projects to be cost-effective in regions with lower wind speed than traditionally required. In higher wind speed regions, the larger turbines have increased capacity factors, effectively reducing the cost of wind generated power.

If we look at offshore turbines (see OWOE: What are offshore wind farms?), which tend to be larger than onshore turbines as they are less constrained by transportation limitations, noise concerns, view-sight issues, and land restrictions, average rated capacity increased from 3 MW in 2010 to almost 7 MW in 2018. (See Figure 2.) The largest and most powerful wind turbines commercially installed as of April 2022 are the Siemens-Gamesa SG 11.0-200 DD rated at 11 MW installed in the Hollandse Kust Zuid windfarm (Netherlands).

This trend is expected to continue, further increasing the competitiveness of wind power. By 2022 a number of companies have tested and are prepared to deploy offshore turbines rated between 14 MW and 16 MW. The Siemens Gamesa SG 14-222 DD has a 14 MW nominal capacity. In October 2022 it set a new world record for electrical output from a single turbine in 24 hour period of 359 MWh. These turbines are planned to be installed in the Moray West wind farm offshore Scotland. GE Renewable's biggest Haliade-X turbine with capacity up to 14.7 MW will be used in the largest offshore wind farm in the world, Dogger Bank, off the coast of England. One rotation of GE's turbine will be capable of powering a UK household for two days. The Vestas V236-15.0 MW has a 15 MW nominal capacity and boasts the largest swept area of 43,742 square meters with 115.5m (379ft) blades. And MingYang Smart Energy has announced its new MySE 16.0-242 rated at 16 MW, which would make it the largest capacity turbine in the world. The first commercial application of the turbine is anticipated to be online in 2026 at the MingYang Yangjiang Qingzhou Four offshore wind farm in the South China Sea.

There are a number of additional critical technological and commercial advances required before offshore wind can fulfill its potential. In particular, floating wind platforms, which are required for wind farm development in deeper waters (over approximately 300 ft, or 95 m, depth), have challenges associated with the floating substructure. These include the strength and stability of the platform, the complex hydrodynamic response to wind and wave loads, infrastructure limitations, and installation vessel availability and cost. See OWOE: What are the main challenges facing offshore wind power? for more details.

Figure 3 illustrates the growth over time of both onshore and offshore wind turbines with projections into the future.

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