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NREL Investigates the Logistics of Transporting and Installing Bigger, Taller Wind Turbines

July 30, 2014

An image of the world's largest wind turbine blade being transported down a highway. The perspect of the photo shows the massive scale of the blade compared to vehicles. Enlarge image

The world’s largest blade (83.5 meters) to date begins its journey to Scotland.
Photo by Martin Fischer, SSP Technology

How do you lift a locomotive higher than the Statue of Liberty, turn a corner hauling a load that is nearly the length of a football field, or take a road trip in a vehicle that is taller than most of the bridges and underpasses? The answers to these questions may not be clear just yet, but a report presented by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory at the WINDPOWER Conference in Las Vegas in May indicates that the nation’s wind industry is working to accomplish feats as challenging as these.

Wind turbine technologies have more than doubled in size over the past decade, from 750 kilowatts to 3 megawatts (MW), which has helped them become cost competitive with conventional land-based fuel sources such as coal and natural gas. The bigger gearboxes and drivetrains produce more power, using larger rotors that capture more energy on top of taller towers that access the stronger, more abundant wind resources. Although this increase in size has boosted power production and lowered the cost of wind energy, making it more competitive in some regions of the United States, it has also made wind turbines increasingly difficult to transport and install. First, the manufacturers must get the huge wind turbine components from the factory floor to the field for installation. Not an easy task when the blades are so long it makes turning corners extremely tough, and the base of the towers will not fit under bridges and underpasses. Then, once they get the components to the field, special cranes are required for installation. The nacelle of a 3-MW wind turbine with its gearbox and drivetrain weighs more than 100 tons and must be lifted to the top of a tower 100 meters or often higher above ground. Cranes that are large enough to handle this kind of lift are hard to come by. And as the technology continues to grow, the transportation and installation challenges will only increase, which could limit the opportunities for increased deployment.

To address these transportation and logistics challenges, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Program is supporting projects to develop cost-competitive solutions to better fabricate, transport, assemble, maintain, and decommission turbines with hub heights of at least 120 meters.

Read more about the transportation and logistics challenges facing the wind industry and possible solutions in Analysis of Transportation and Logistics Challenges Affecting the Deployment of Larger Wind Turbines: Summary of Results.