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OWOE - Wind Power - What are the key technology advances impacting wind energy production?
  Figure 1 - Global average offshore wind turbine capacities (DOE Offshore Wind Market Report, August 2023)
Figure 1 - Global average offshore wind turbine capacities (DOE Offshore Wind Market Report, August 2023)
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: 2024-05-24

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 and is expected to continue (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.) By the end of 2023 a number of companies were either testing or deploying offshore turbines rated between 14 MW and 18 MW. In October 2022 the Siemens Gamesa SG 14-222 DD with a 14 MW nominal capacity 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. And the Vestas V236-15.0 MW has a 15 MW nominal capacity. In June 2023, the the offshore record was broken by GWH252-16MW, with a rotor diameter of 252m (827 feet), manufactured by Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co., Ltd, followed closely in July 2023 by the MySE 16.0-260, manufactured by Ming Yang Wind Power Group Ltd with a rotor diameter of 260m (853 feet). Both are located offshore Fujian Province, China, in the Taiwan Strait. Several companies are working on the development of turbines up to 18MW.

However, more recently, after several difficult years in which volatile costs and delivery challenges have delayed projects and severely impacted revenue, western turbine manufacturers have changed their focus from introducing new turbine models to standardization and industrialization to reduce costs. For example, Vestas has announced plans to focus on its 15 MW offshore wind turbine, which it believes will help ensure on-time, successful project delivery.

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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