The beauty and majesty of the engineering of wind turbines

There is more to the construction of wind turbines than meets the eye.
Kavita Verma
Main photo - article.jpg
A view of ice and frost-covered trees at Wufuling Wind Farm in Chongqing, China.

The engineering of Wind Turbines

Wind turbines are essentially giant windmills that harness wind energy and convert it into useful forms of power. Turbines generally have two or three propeller-like blades which spin as the wind hits them. The blades are connected to a rotor that leads to a main shaft where a generator spins to create useful energy or electricity. According to data from the International Energy Agency, China is currently the global leader in wind power, with 342 GW capacity. It is followed by the US (139 GW). Germany has more than 60 GW, Europe’s highest. India stands fourth worldwide with 42 GW, and Spain fifth with 29 GW. Wind energy produces a quarter of the electricity in the US and this is growing rapidly. Such sustainable power comes from giant wind turbines manufactured and placed globally.

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    Ring seam welding at the tower cylinder production base in Zhangye city, Gansu province, China

    Wind turbine construction starts with assembling the tower parts. The steel sections of the tower may be made offsite in a factory but they are normally assembled on the site. Other turbine parts are made in large factories. Here, construction workers cut raw materials, prepare grooves, coil shell rings, weld longitudinal and circular seams of ring shells, and conduct the final inspection. The detailed work procedure ensures strict quality control and improves manufacturing efficiency by reducing labor intensity.

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    Wind turbine backends and hubs assembled at the Siemens Gamesa wind turbine factory’s assembly hall

    This massive factory hall at the Siemens Gamesa plant in Cuxhaven, Germany, has several production lines that create nacelles or blades. The workers then assemble three main components of the turbine - the nacelle housing, generators, and rotors - in the assembly hall. This assembly is referred to as “marriage.” The plant specializes in wind turbines for offshore wind farms. An assembled wind turbine goes through a final inspection before they go out for site installation. 

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    Components in-transit from Waltershof highway exit at the Port of Hamburg to the Dradenau sewage treatment plant

    The rotor blades and other significant parts of the wind turbine are loaded onto multiple heavy-duty transport vehicles for travel to nearby ports, where they are taken to their final destination on cargo ships. It took three large trucks to carry all of the heavy components of one new wind turbine, destined for a wind farm in Hamburg, Germany. Once the turbines are in place, they are expected to supply 9000 MW hours of electricity every year, with a total output of 3.6 MW.

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    A cargo ship carrying a wind turbine tower at the Penglai Port area of east China’s Yantai Port

    Once in port, heavy wind turbine components destined for overseas are loaded on cargo ships. These ships transport the parts to the location where the wind turbine will be set up. Since the dimensions and weight of the components vary, it is challenging for shipping companies to manage this cargo. Leading turbine parts manufacturers often use the double twist-lock T-12 cargo lashing system to transport the parts across seas securely.

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    The foundation of a new wind turbine in Jacobsdorf, Brandenburg

    At the site location, the workers pour the foundation of a new wind turbine. The Germany state of Brandenburg has the second-largest installed capacity of wind turbines in the entire country. Almost one-third of the electricity demand in the state is covered by wind energy. Brandenburg stands second with 7,400 MW of total installed capacity after Lower Saxony.

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    The construction site for a new wind turbine in Jacobsdorf, Brandenburg

    An aerial view of a wind turbine construction site shows the work in progress. Using heavy-duty equipment, the large components of the turbine and its tower are assembled horizontally. Then, the tower is lifted by a crane to stabilize it in an upright position. After testing the stability, the nacelle is installed to complete the installation process. 

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    Cranes fly by a wind turbine in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, looking for food

    A recent study revealed that seabirds are getting used to the presence offshore wind farms, becoming more comfortable with flying near them. In this picture, cranes fly amidst the turbines in search of food. In Eastern Europe, gray cranes (Grus grus) often visit the area of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on their way from Scandinavia as they head to their winter destinations in Africa. Around 140,000 of the large, migratory birds stop in the area for food before heading further south.

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    An aerial view of the Middelgrunden Offshore Wind Farm in Copenhagen, Denmark

    A facility with several wind turbines is called a wind farm. An offshore wind farm is when the turbines are located in the sea and use offshore winds to generate electricity. These may be more efficient than onshore wind farms, as the wind is more consistent. The Middelgrunden Offshore Wind Farm is located 3.5 km outside Copenhagen, Denmark. Constructed in 2000, it was the world's largest wind farm when it was completed, with a capacity of 40 MW through 20 turbines.

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    View inside a new wind turbine in Angermünde, Brandenburg

    Wind turbines are constructed of large components and often have ample space inside. They generally have four major parts - the foundation, tower, rotor, and nacelle. The foundation is the base that holds the turbine, and the tower connects all the parts together. The rotor is attached at the top of the tower and to the blades. Inside the tower are stairs or sometimes even an elevator to allow workers to climb up to the rotor.

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    Demolition of a new wind turbine in Jacobsdorf, Brandenburg

    A wind turbine with construction defects is demolished on site. Types of damage that occur may include adhesive joint failure, skin/adhesive debonding, splitting along fibers, delamination, etc. Sometimes, a new wind turbine causes severe damage to the concrete base, and will need to be taken down immediately.