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This Brilliantly Simple Wind Turbine Could Spark A Revolution
The X1 is a game changer
Renewable energy only accounts for around 11% of global energy production. This is a staggeringly low figure, considering that if we are to reach net-zero by 2050 and save the world, renewable energy needs to account for at least 60% of global energy production in less than seven years’ time. Reaching this target will take a mammoth international effort and brilliant innovations to make renewable energy roll-out cheaper, faster and easier. Luckily, X1 Wind has done this innovation; their unique pyramid-shaped offshore wind turbine is set to help us harness the most environmentally friendly form of energy like never before! But is it enough?
Before we dive into X1’s brilliant design, we first need to recap how current wind power works.
There are four types of wind power, inland, onshore, offshore fixed and offshore floating. Inland and onshore place the giant wind turbines out of the water and on the land or next to the shore. These are easier to build and maintain as access is easy, but their location limits the amount of wind they receive. Offshore fixed is used in shallow waters, as the giant pylon is affixed to the seafloor. This makes installation and maintenance tricky and inexpensive, but it boosts the amount of wind they receive. Offshore floating is used in deep water locations, typically far from shore. Installation and maintenance are complicated, but this far out to sea, floating offshore wind turbines receive by far the most wind out of any type of wind power.
Out of all of these different designs, floating offshore wind power holds the most promise. This is because the emissions associated with wind power come from producing the turbine, so placing it in a location with more wind will lead to lower overall emissions per kWh. Now, wind power currently only emits on average 11g per kWh, with some reports finding it to be as low as 6g per kWh, and that’s with inland and onshore dominating output. If we shifted to floating offshore, that figure could drop even further. Moreover, building massive wind farms far offshore doesn’t drive terrestrial habitat loss. This not only makes acquiring planning for these farms much easier, making floating offshore wind ideal for rapid expansion, but it also means they cause less ecological harm than solar or inland/onshore wind power. What’s more, the subsea structures of offshore wind (both floating and fixed) act as artificial reefs, which dramatically help to increase ocean biodiversity.
With all of this in mind, it’s no wonder there is significant pressure for floating offshore wind to expand. But there is a severe problem. The installation costs are insane!
Pictured above are the typical mooring styles of offshore turbines. These massive subsurface structures are incredibly cumbersome to move into position, and the mooring lines need to be installed precisely to ensure no movement in the turbine tower. If there is any vertical rotation or side-to-side movement, the turbine could be damaged or become incredibly inefficient. You can’t do this with any ordinary vessel, so floating offshore wind has had to build giant multi-million dollar custom installation vessels, making the installation cost and even maintenance eyewateringly high!
In the UK, floating offshore wind costs an astonishing £87 per MWh, which is more than double the cost of other wind technologies and solar power!
This is where X1 Wind comes in, as their genius design not only solves the installation problem with floating offshore wind, but also enhances wind’s inherent eco-friendliness.
X1 started by throwing away the tower and replacing it with a lopsided pyramid-like truss structure. This effectively places the turbine on top of a near-vertical A-frame, then braced it with a third point behind the turbine to make a stable lopsided triangular pyramid.
This means that X1’s turbines can be moored with a single line to the third point behind the turbine. This creates what X1 calls the downwind single pivot system. You see, just like a yacht moored to a single line, the wind will push and rotate this pyramid structure so that it faces downwind and ensures the turbine is always aligned with the wind.
This simple change in design has some fantastic benefits.
Firstly, X1 turbines don’t need rotating mechanisms to align themselves to the wind. This reduces the number of parts needed to build them, making them cheaper to produce and more reliable as there is less to go wrong! As maintenance costs for offshore wind are insanely expensive, this actually dramatically reduces maintenance costs.
Installation costs are also far, far less. This pyramid structure doesn’t sit deep in the water at all, allowing them to be built in a dock and then towed to the location. This negates the need for those massive custom wind turbine installation vessels and makes installation faster, easier and cheaper. What’s more, single mooring points are far less complex and far quicker and cheaper to install than the complex multipoint mooring systems used for other floating offshore turbines. Again, this makes overall installation far quicker and cheaper.
Finally, this affects the turbine itself. Most wind turbines orientate themselves so that the turbine faces the wind, with the tower behind it. This is because the tower creates wind turbulence, which can dramatically reduce the efficiency of the blades. So placing the turbine in front of the tower ensures they have clean, efficient airflow. Now, the X1 is different, as the turbine faces downwind, with the pyramid structure upwind from it. You might think this is a bad thing, as the structure’s turbulence will reduce the blades’ efficiency. While this is true, X1 has found a way to turn this into a positive.
You see, typical wind turbines require incredibly stiff blades. In heavy wind conditions, these blades create an insane amount of force. If these blades flex backwards under this force, they will impact the tower, destroying themselves and even the tower in some cases. Creating blades that are stiff enough to stop this, yet light enough to be efficient, is an engineering nightmare, and solving this problem costs an awful lot and makes these blades challenging to recycle.
As X1 Wind’s turbine faces the other way, its blade can be incredibly flexible and not cause any issues at all. This makes them lighter, cheaper and possibly more eco-friendly to produce. It also makes installing them or replacing them (a part of maintenance) way easier and cheaper, as they are simply easier to move about. So while the backwards facing turbine will reduce blade efficiency slightly, X1 wind has been able to ensure the cost per energy output increases more than makes up for this.
All of these points make X1 Wind’s technology far cheaper than typical offshore wind. In fact, they predict that their turbines can reduce the cost of floating offshore wind by 50%! If we take the UK’s floating offshore cost per MWh of £87, this reduction will make floating offshore wind cheaper than fixed offshore wind and as cheap as solar!
This super cheap cost, combined with the speed at which X1 technology can be rolled, along with just how much real estate floating offshore wind has the potential to occupy, means that X1 could spark a floating offshore revolution. If used correctly and enough investment is put behind it, the offshore wind capacity could grow orders of magnitude faster than it is today and dramatically help our efforts to reach our climate targets.
But, we are going to have to wait.
Now, this technology is still in the prototype stage. The turbine imaged at the top of the article is their X30 scale-model prototype. This proved their technology worked exceptionally well, and X1 is now moving onto a pre-commercial unit. This will be a 6 MW full-scale turbine used to demonstrate how wind farm companies can install, use and maintain these turbines and hopefully prove how cheap they can produce energy. That stage should be finished by 2025. Then, in 2026 X1 Wind will enter commercial operations and look to build even bigger turbines with around 14 MW of output capacity.
This means that X1 Wind can’t help us meet that all-important 60% of global energy production by renewables by 2030. So, we still need to expand wind and solar power with our current technology. But post-2030, X1 could help us catch back up to this target, as we are currently on course to blow right past it.
I can’t stress enough how vital, simple yet potent innovations like this can be. By making the production, use, and maintenance of these vital planet-saving technologies more cost-efficient, we can dramatically help our efforts to save the planet. But only if we support and use these technologies. So, here’s hope X1 Wind gets into commercial operations and sparks a wind power revolution.
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