Whirlwind rise

11 April 2008

Wind turbine sections at the Mountain Wind project in Wyoming, US

Wind turbine sections at the Mountain Wind project in Wyoming, US

In 2007 the number of wind turbines increased by 25%, according to the World Wind Energy Association (WWEA), which forecasts a worldwide capacity of 160 GW (giga watts) by 2010, compared to the 73.6 GW installed by the end of 2006.

Germany leads the way with a total capacity of 20,622 MW at the end of 2006, followed by Spain with 11,615 MW and the US with 11,603 MW. However, the latest figures from the WWEA show that the US is driving its wind energy production ahead of Germany by adding 2,454 MW during 2006, while the European leader increased its capacity by a slightly lower 2,194 MW.

India, Spain and China also added more than 1,000 MW, with China's 1,145 MW increase equating to a 91% growthin 2006.

Other countries getting in on the act in 2006, with additions of more than 500 MW, were France with 810 MW, a 107% growth, Canada (768 MW, 112% growth), Portugal (628 MW, 61%) and the UK (610 MW, 45%).

“Wind energy technology continues to be the most dynamic energy source and wind is clearly emerging as the currently most promising solution to replace the most undesirable fossil fuel-based electrical energy. However, next to still-existing political and administrative constraints, one major limiting factor today is the need for additional wind turbine manufacturing capabilities. Governments, as well as international organisations, have to provide the reliable long-term frameworks so that investment in this key sector can continue,” says Dr Anil Kane, WWEA president, in a WWEA report.

Growth curve

Luis Machin at the Spanish Manufacturers' Association of Construction and Mining Equipment (ANMOPyC) agrees with the summary. He says the wind turbine market, along with the one for mobile cranes which service them, are on a huge growth curve, while other sectors, predominantly residential construction, are dropping away. Spanish crane operating companies, for example, Transbiaga, are making the most of the growth. “The sector with the biggest increase at the moment is the wind energy sector. The principle reason for this popularity is the elevated subsidies from the Spanish government for reaching the required number of megawatts,” says Rafaela Mileta at Transbiaga.

Mileta explains the most popular cranes for wind turbine applications are crawler cranes below 600 tonnes lifting capacity. “These cranes allow us to move from tower to tower on the narrow roads in a wind park without dismantling the crane.”

Having said that, the company is due to receive a 1,000 tonne capacity Liebherr LTM 11200-9.1 telescopic wheeled mobile crane. The nine axle giant boasts a 100 m boom, the longest in the world, according to the manufacturer.

The enthusiasm for wind power is true across Europe, with seven out of ten countries with the most installed megawatts, being on the continent. In Italy manufacturers of knuckle boom and tower cranes are reporting a flattening of the domestic market and are turning their attention to export sales. In contrast, the country saw a 23.6% increase in wind turbine capacity in 2006, ranking it seventh in the world.

US evolution

In the US wind farms are going through a similar evolution to Europe, where the trend has been towards taller and heavier turbines, says Doug Williams, president of Buckner HeavyLift. “Maybe it's a bit accelerated because the technology has already moved along,”he adds.

The demand for large cranes is such that Williams says it is difficult to supply the cranes and operators that are needed. “Our [Liebherr] LR 1750s are busy on long-term power plant projects but I am sure there will be a point when these cranes will be in demand on some of the larger wind turbine projects.”

Concerning the overall industry Williams adds, “The manufacturers are doing all they can and, if you backed up 18 months before the boom, you would have had to have been pretty daring and had a pretty good crystal ball to see anything like this coming. In my career and knowledge, we've never seen anything like it before and I'm not sure anyone out there has.”

Extreme elements

While Buckner HeavyLift has been successful in the wind power market, Williams says the work is hard on the cranes.

“Wind work requires a lot of crawling of the crane. There's much more wear and tear and maintenance. Many times they are in areas where there is extreme weather and you are generally working with demanding schedules, so you are faced with 12 months out of the year with having to have operators and back up operators and support, often a long way from your home base with very little flexibility. In other words, it's not all candy, but it's also good work and there's a lot of it at a fair price.”

One of the strongest indications of the worldwide wind boom comes from Brazil where megawatt capacity increased by a massive 729% in 2006, bringing it to number 20 in the world, with a total capacity of 237 MW. The increase reflects the crane market in South America generally which is now being targeted by manufactures worldwide.

The wind boom also offers a ray of hope for many African nations suffering from a lack of accessible and affordable energy, says Hermann Oelsner, WWEA vice president and African Wind Energy Association president.

“Governments and especially international finance institutions need to make sure that the people in Africa can participate in this overall successful global development. We are confident that several major wind farms will be installed in the near future, especially in Southern Africa, where the current shortage of electricity can only be covered by renewable energies, which, in most of these countries, are the only domestic energy sources,” he explains in the WWEA report.

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