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Offshore Wind

Power Up: The World’s Most Powerful Wind Turbine Generates First Electrons

Scott Woolley
November 07, 2019
Optimism over the potential for offshore wind power is easy to find: The International Energy Agency expects global offshore wind power —spurred by a new generation of mind-bendingly powerful turbines designed to produce more electricity at a lower cost — to grow 15-fold by 2040, becoming a $1 trillion industry over the next two decades.
This week, the most powerful of those turbines began to generate electricity for the first time. A towering sight visible over the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, GE’s Haliade-X 12 MW is capable of generating 12 megawatts, which is enough to supply 16,000 European homes. The rotor diameter of the Haliade-X 12 MW spans 220 meters; at 107 meters, the blade of the turbine is so long that it might be one of the largest single machine components ever built.

After the prototype finishes spinning through its tests on land, the Haliade-X 12 MW will be used to build several massive new offshore farms of the sort the IEA expects to see spreading around the globe. Ocean Wind, off the coast of New Jersey, will be capable of generating 1.1 gigawatts, the equivalent of an average nuclear reactor in the U.S. And last month GE landed the contract for Dogger Bank, a 3.6-GW installation located in the North Sea that will be the world’s largest offshore wind project.

While forecasting changes in technology over two decades is always a tricky business, the engine at the heart of the offshore wind trend has proven a predictable source of progress: Larger windmills create cheaper power. The steady growth in the physical size of turbines — GE also makes the Cypress, the largest onshore wind turbine that's currently installed — has been tracked by increases in their energy output. According to WindEurope, for the last five years, the average rated capacity of new turbines rose 16% per year.

The Haliade-X 12 MW will accelerate that already impressive growth rate, and bring with it a wide range of benefits that come from larger rotors. It’s simple math: Because the laws of geometry dictate that the area of a circle increases with the square of its radius, lengthening turbine blades significantly increases the amount of wind energy captured.

In addition to the prototype now up and running in Rotterdam, a second Haliade-X 12 MW nacelle is currently being assembled in Saint-Nazaire, France, and will soon be shipped to the U.K. for indoor testing. The stresses put on the blades grow in proportion to their size, increasing the importance of thorough testing of the nacelle and the blades. Other test blades will undergo static and fatigue testing to demonstrate their ability to handle peak winds and years at sea in the U.K. and the U.S. In fact, one Haliade-X blade just arrived in Boston for testing.

The rapid deployment of the Haliade-X 12 MW will be critical to meeting the IEA’s optimistic forecasts. Not only does it see global offshore wind capacity rising 15-fold by 2040, the analysis also found offshore wind will become “a $1 trillion industry over the next two decades — matching capital spending on gas- and coal-fired capacity over the same period.”

Full-scale production of the Haliade-X 12 MW is set to begin during the second half of 2021.


Top image: The Haliade-X 12 MW prototype started generating electricity in Rotterdam this week. Image credit: GE Renewable Energy.