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Wind Power World Record Marks A Massive Leap Forward
It might seem simple, but this could be the start of something fantastic!
The expansive plains of Denmark are home to a true giant. This colossus stands twice as high as the Statue of Liberty, though, unlike the Lady on a Pedestal, it moves with the wind. I am, of course, talking about Vesta’s V236–15.0 MW prototype offshore wind turbine. Not only is this the largest wind turbine ever constructed, but Vestas recently announced that back in December 2022, it smashed the power output by a single wind turbine in 24 hours record. At face value, these milestones might seem arbitrary or simply ceremonial. But in reality, they mark a significant step in the right direction, particularly as it is Vestas who achieved this, not their rivals. Let me explain.
Let’s start with a proper introduction to this turbine. The V236–15.0 MW stands at 280 m tall and has a rotor diameter of 236 m, and as the name suggests, it can output 15 MW of power. This means that, in theory, it can deliver around 80 GWh of energy each year. That means this one turbine could power a small town all by itself! As of right now, it is still a prototype and undergoing field-testing. That is why it is located on terra firma in Jutland, Denmark, rather than out to sea, where it is designed to be installed, as this gives engineers and analysts easy access, enabling them to thoroughly test its design.
Vestas recently announced that back in December 2022, this prototype turbine, which isn’t even fully optimised and ready for production yet, produced a monumental 363 megawatt-hours in just 24 hours, setting a new world record. For some sense of scale here, the average US home currently uses around 886 kWh of energy per month, which means that this turbine produced enough energy in a single day to power a home for over 34 years!
So why is this a good thing? Surely, several smaller turbines can produce the same amount of power?
Well, over the past twenty years, wind turbines have been getting bigger and bigger at a rather alarming rate, all in an effort to make wind power cheaper.
You see, even though a larger wind turbine costs significantly more to build than a smaller one, the cost per energy output is lower. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, less supportive infrastructure needs to be built (like cables and transformers, etc.), which saves considerably on construction and maintenance costs. It also makes construction more efficient, as there is less work to be done, even if it is at a larger scale. Moreover, as turbines get larger, their energy output increases quadratically. This is because a wind turbine’s power is directly linked to the swept area of its blades, which is calculated using (πR²). This means larger turbines are far more efficient and cheaper than numerous small ones, as they use less material per energy output. Finally, construction and installation speeds for a few massive turbines can be far quicker than for many little ones, which further reduces the cost of installation, but also enables a faster transition to renewable energy.
This trend of increasing turbine size has helped slash the cost per kWh of wind energy. About a decade ago, wind power (one of the most consistent and eco-friendly renewable energies out there) was over £100 per MWh, making it one of the most expensive forms of energy we have. Since then, turbines have increased in size by nearly 50%, and their power output has almost quadrupled! This, in turn, has driven the cost of wind power to as little as £20 per MWh!
So the fact that Vestas’s giant prototype turbine is already smashing records is a brilliant sign. It shows wind energy, which has one of the lowest carbon footprints of any energy source at 4g/kWh (which is 2g/kWh less than solar power), is on course to expand quicker and cost less. This will be a significant help in transitioning our energy grids away from planet-destroying fossil fuels and toward kinder renewables.
But there is another massive breakthrough here.
You see, China has a massive grip on the renewable energy industry. 75% of solar panels are made in China, and around 70% of the world’s wind turbines are made in China too. Why is this bad? Well, China is still expanding its coal power plants in order to power these factories, so their construction is not as eco-friendly as we need them to be (though they are still better for the environment than fossil fuels). China has also been caught violating human rights and using slave labour in a few of these factories, making these products ethically questionable.
China’s ongoing expansionist aggression in the Indo-Pacific and towards Taiwan also threatens its relationship with the West. As if they spark a war, goods sanctions will be placed on them, meaning these renewables won’t be able to make it to the West, starving us of the planet-saving technology we need. In a similar fashion, China’s economy is in a massive bubble and has been threatening to pop for years now. If China’s economy falters, it could rapidly stop the production of these renewables, again starving the West and the world of the renewable technology it needs to stop climate change.
As such, politicians, economists, investors, policymakers and climate activists are all encouraging the West to significantly expand its renewables industry to match China’s cost and output capacity. This will enable us to reach our climate goals independently and give us better control over the industry. In theory, this should lower the environmental and human impact of renewables significantly, whilst also boosting our energy security. It will also help our economies grow, as more money will be retained in them.
Now, Vestas is a Danish company with manufacturing facilities mainly in the West and Taiwan. They do have a small Chinese factory, but it only produces a fraction of their output. So the fact that Vestas will soon be offering the largest, most powerful, and presumably most cost-effective wind turbine ever should massively help to swing the wind industry further West.
That is why this behemoth of a turbine twirling away in the Danish countryside is so damn important. Yes, the 24-hour power output record is impressive, but that isn’t the impactful thing about this turbine. Instead, it’s that fact that it can help us break our addiction to cheap, ethically questionable, politically dubious, and economically unstable Chinese renewables and give us a more independent, predictable, reliable, ethical and assured pathway to net-zero, and saving the world from our climate sins. Vestas really is trailblazing here, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
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