How to Correctly Transport Wind Turbine Blades
In case you missed it, an offshore wind farm in Scotland recently announced the purchase of sixty of the world‘s most powerful wind turbines. Although they boast a capacity of 14.7 megawatts each, these behemoths won‘t hold the world‘s title very long since a Danish manufacturer has already said it will produce and supply larger wind turbines (15.0-megawatt capacity) to an offshore wind farm in Germany within the next three years.
These announcements are no surprise as the world‘s dependence on fossil fuels, including oil, coal, and natural gas, has been under scrutiny for years because of their adverse environmental effects. Wind power is one of the forms of renewable energy getting plenty of attention. In fact, the Global Wind Energy Council reports that more manufacturing facilities will be needed to produce the estimated 10,000 additional wind turbines required to keep up with the burgeoning demand for clean energy over the next twenty years.
What are the Wind Turbine Components?
Wind turbines, sometimes called windmills, are available in various types and sizes, but they typically consist of three primary components:
- Tower: The tower section rests on a foundation and is between 50 and 100 meters above the ground or water.
- Nacelle: The nacelle contains a set of gears and a generator converting rotational energy into electrical energy.
- Rotor Blades: The wind turbine‘s blades operate under the same principle as aircraft wings with one curved and one flat side. Since the wind flows more quickly along the curved edge, it creates a pressure difference, causing the blades to rotate.
The Challenges of Transporting Wind Turbine Blades
Although all the wind turbine components require transportation, the blades provide the most formidable challenges because of their ever-increasing lengths. Unfortunately, the blades’ manufacturing facilities will not always be close to the wind farm or the single wind generator‘s final destination. Instead, the wind turbine components, oversized equipment, must often be moved safely over considerable distances.
For example, in the summer of 2016, LM Wind Power, a blade manufacturer in Denmark, arranged for an 88.4-meter blade (290 feet) to be transported 218 kilometers (135 miles) across Danish roads. It took nine months to plan the trip. For comparison, the blade length of the turbines heading for the Scottish wind farm is 108 meters, or a whopping 355 feet long!
It looks as if heavy-haul companies providing wind turbine blade transport will have their work cut out for them in the future.
Is There an Alternative to the Time-Consuming Task of Trailers Hauling Wind Turbine Blades?
As wind power becomes a growing source for U.S. power grids, wind turbine blade transportation challenges have come to the forefront. Lockheed Martin has proposed a futuristic-sounding solution: a Hybrid Airship that can fly 40,000 pounds of cargo directly to the site. Using a zeppelin with an operational range of 1400 miles sounds like a viable solution.
However, most people in the wind industry agree it will be years before any hybrid airships will be operational, but the need for wind energy is immediate. The world cannot wait indefinitely for blade transportation solutions that can pick up oversized blades, avoid obstructions, and set them down at their destinations without escort services.
Trains have also been used occasionally to carry the blades, but as blades become more extended, they don’t fit on the flat cars, requiring specially-made cars to accommodate them. But these longer blades may also be too tall to fit under railroad underpasses and tunnels, and moving the blades from the train depot to the wind farm is often the most challenging part of the route.
Flatbed Trailers Continue to Provide the Most Reliable Wind Turbine Blade Transportation
When it comes to heavy equipment transportation, no one has more experience than the trucking industry. However, the challenges of wind turbine blade transport are unique. Taller wind turbines provide the most efficient wind energy since winds are more reliable and potent in higher altitudes.
Larger wind turbines mean longer blades. Fifteen years ago, wind turbines were rarely taller than 280 feet, but today the average turbine is taller than that. And although wind turbine manufacturing facilities are cropping up in the country, the problem of transporting the blades remains.
While the wind turbine components can be broken down and shipped separately, the fan blades must be delivered as one unit. Although the length and weight of the blades pose the primary challenge to transportation companies, there are other issues to overcome that include:
Today, wind turbine blade transportation demand has not yet exceeded the available trucking resources. Unfortunately, the market is growing, and, inevitably, limited trucking resources–drivers and equipment–and highway infrastructure will become obstructions to wind turbine use.
The growing demand will almost certainly require specialized trailers that are longer and lower to accommodate longer blades and fulfill maximum height requirements.
Higher Transportation Costs
It costs roughly $100,000 and $150,000 to move a fan blade from a port to a wind farm. However, as blades get longer and heavier, they will require extra work and money to transport. If wind turbine blades get so large that many transportation companies can‘t handle them, transportation costs will likely skyrocket.
Most wind turbine blades fall into the superload category, requiring transportation companies to obtain permits and surveys for every state they pass through. Getting these permits is a multi-step and time-consuming process, including an engineering route survey of bridges, highways, and potential overhead obstructions.
Transportation companies must also arrange for escort services and might have to perform a test run of the route before the trip begins. Traffic patterns, weather conditions, and the time of day at various transport points should also be considered.
Unfavorable Road Conditions
Wind farms don’t always have the best roads leading to them. A crumbling infrastructure on secondary roads or a dirt or gravel surface can turn a challenging trip into a nightmare. Transporting long and heavy blades can cause them to shift on rough or soft road conditions resulting in a hazardous journey.
Fewer Experienced Drivers
The shortage of truck drivers has been well documented over the last several years. Baby boomers have been retiring in droves, being replaced with relatively inexperienced drivers. However, wind turbine blade transportation requires the steady hand and nerves of an experienced driver.
The drivers who haul these blades must have experience and knowledge in superload equipment. The quality drivers handling wind turbine blade transport are mostly older and nearing retirement age, creating a critical shortage of top-notch drivers.
Passing Through Small Towns
Small towns can create roadway and public relations challenges, and avoiding them is not always possible. While metro areas typically have wider and well-maintained roads, small towns will often present the challenges of sharp bends and impossibly tight intersections. Low-hanging traffic lights and utility lines might also be an issue.
Even if they are passable, local roads might require temporarily closing, creating a public relations debacle.
What Does the Future Hold for Wind Power?
The quest for renewable energy is not a fad, and wind generators are part of the solution to ending our dependence on energy from fossil fuels. Manufacturing facilities and transportation companies are responding to the need for larger wind turbines.
Getting wind turbine components to a wind firm requires the collaboration of manufacturers and the transportation industry. Innovative transportation companies such as Titan World Wide are poised to meet the challenge.