Winning with wind

22 May 2008

There is some very good news in the air for our industry – the rapid growth of the wind power industry. The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) forecast that the global wind-power market will expand by more than 155%, to reach 240 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity by 2012.

By then GWEC expects Europe to continue to host the largest wind energy capacity, totaling 102 GW, followed by Asia with 66 GW and North America with 61.3 GW.

“The growth rates we are experiencing in wind energy continue to exceed our most optimistic expectations,” said Steve Sawyer, GWEC secretary general. “Globally, wind energy has become a mainstream energy source and an important player in the world's energy markets, and it now contributes to the energy mix in more than 70 countries across the globe.”

Wind power clearly has become a mainstream option for electricity generation and a cost-effective power source. In the United States, wind projects accounted for about 30% of all new power generating capacity last year.

The bigger the wind turbine, the more wind it reaches and the more electricity it produces.

The world's largest wind turbines are now manufactured in Germany, mainly with a view to offshore use. They have a rated output of six megawatts and an energy yield exceeding the annual consumption of 5,000 three-person households. Rotor diameter is 126 metres (413 feet). Each of the three rotor blades is 61.5 metres (202 feet) long and weighs 18 tonnes. The nacelle, which houses all the energy-generating components, and the rotor weigh about 400 tons.

The extreme size and weight of wind turbine equipment requires specialized transportation equipment and expertise. It is a job tailor-made for SC&RA member companies around the world.

Many of our Transportation Group members welcome the challenge of navigating huge components through urban areas, where they often are manufactured, to remote locations where turbines are most likely to catch the wind without running much risk of attracting unfavourable attention.

Once on the jobsite, our Crane & Rigging Group members are essential for erecting the equipment. The business is so significant that our Allied Group members are working on new technology specifically designed to transport and erect wind turbines.

Large-scale wind farms could ultimately have more than a thousand turbines spread across a big field. A large wind farm in Altamont Pass, California already has more than 900 turbines.

Even after the completion of wind farms, SC&RA members will be needed for turbine maintenance. Their services also will be necessary for transporting and installing the equipment needed to manufacture wind farm components. Still more business can be expected to come from the building of transmission lines from deserts, seas and other remote locations to the city.

Wind power should be perceived as a bright spot in economies everywhere, helping to lower energy bills, creating thousands of jobs and reducing global warming while helping to meet growing energy needs. Although many governments support an investment in wind power, that support may be more variable than the wind itself.

Some people decry the turbines because they say they spoil their view – even if they need to squint to see them. Others oppose wind turbines because they worry that birds will fly into the rotating blades, ignoring the fact that birds are far more likely to die after colliding with glass windows and office buildings.

Even if legitimate concerns about wind power ultimately arise, the benefits are so undeniable that adaptations most certainly will be made to keep this industry vibrant.

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