The largest wind turbine in the world (prototype, on land, in Rotterdam) GE Renewables

New Offshore Wind Turbine Can Power a Home for a Day in Just 7 Seconds

, Senior energy analyst | December 3, 2020, 11:24 am EDT
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This post is a part of a series on Clean Energy Momentum

The first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States may use the largest wind turbine in the world. Here are a few ways to think about what all that might mean.

The developers of the Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts have just announced that they’ll be using GE wind turbines—specifically, the GE Haliade-X. That turbine recently got a capacity upgrade, from a world-leading 12 megawatts (MW) to a world-leading-by-even-more 13 MW.

Those developments got me thinking about both the turbine and the project.

More power, more energy, more impressive

First, the turbine:

  • More power – A 13 MW turbine would be 37% more powerful than the 9.5 MW turbine that the Vineyard Wind project might have used (the first of which got deployed earlier this year in Europe), and more than double the 6 MW turbines installed off Block Island, RI, several years ago, and off Virginia earlier this year.
  • Greater yield – 13 MW means that a turbine going full out could produce 312 megawatt-hours (MWh) in a day (and indeed that’s what the prototype, installed in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, has just done, according to GE). That’s 8% more power than the record set not long ago by the 12 MW version.
  • Long blades – At 107 meters, each blade of the 12 or 13 MW turbine (they’re the same size) is long enough to stretch on a football (American football) field from one goalpost to just shy of the other.

A home’s daily energy in 7 seconds

Hearing that 312 MWh number got me thinking about how much electricity the average home uses in these parts, and wondering how it compared. So I did the math: At full power, a turbine that size could cover a whole household’s daily electricity needs in under 7 seconds.

Sure, not every day is that windy, you’d lose some energy transmitting it from the turbine to the home, and you’d need storage to use it the other 86,393 seconds of the day. (So I wouldn’t recommend this approach for DIY home power…)

But still: 7 seconds.

The manufacturer itself offers another way to make the comparison between turbine and home: A single spin of the turbine, says GE, “could power a UK household for more than 2 days”. While specifying “UK” is important, because of their lower per-home electricity use, the math still works out to a single spin of the blades generating enough energy for a day for the average home in at least the 10 or 12 most efficient states in the US.

Fewer turbines, fewer foundations, less area

Second, the project perspective. Upgrading to a turbine that size has a few important implications:

  • Fewer turbines – That math is pretty simple: An 800 MW project would need 84 of the 9.5 MW turbines (or 133 6 MW turbines). If the project ends up with a 13 MW model, the turbine count can drop to 62.
  • Fewer installations – Fewer turbines mean commensurately fewer turbine sites, fewer foundations, and less of everything that comes along with having to prepare and install them.
  • Less area – And, if the turbines keep the same spacing—which would seem possible, since they and other developers had already agreed to a spacing of 1 by 1 nautical miles, more than the turbines required—that could allow the project to fit in less area, with a footprint potentially a quarter smaller. That might also mean shorter cabling connecting it all.

More momentum

Even in this troubled year, I’ve seen a lot of cool stats about clean energy momentum—new technology, new records, even better economics. But even within that august body of news, these developments are noteworthy.

Next steps for making it happen include the Vineyard Wind project getting through the federal permitting process. Included in this week’s announcement was a statement that they’re pausing things at their end, to “allow the project team to conduct a final technical review” associated with the turbine upgrade. But that pause should be brief, and the project is still aiming to start the clean electricity flowing in 2023.

In the meantime, visualize turbine blades spinning, and count to 7.

Photo: J. Rogers

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  • David White

    The other advantage of more efficient wind turbines is that there could be less ugly industrial sprawl over rural landscapes and over beautiful seascapes.

  • kootenaybelle

    If we used efficient wind turbines in combination with this renwable local energy loop – we would need next to no fossil-fuels: For 10 years, Vancouver’s False Creek Neighborhood Energy Utility has used the local technology of Thermal Sewage Heat Capture for 24/7, 365 days a year to provide 70% of the building/neighborhood/ industries heating, cooling and hot water, while cutting 60% of the 55% of Vancouver’ building carbon emissions. This is a proven, successful, self-financing, local,and renewable energy system that is happening now and is expanding to 4 other neighborhoods, eliminating most of the requirements for LNG, Hydro, or coal energy. It will be 100% carbon emission free by 2025. Let’s do this!

  • Acme Fixer

    The blades are the same length, but hopefully they will have a taller tower. Higher means the wind is more reliable. There are disadvantages to bigger, fewer wind turbines. If one is out of service, that’s twice as much power loss as the 6 MW version. There are some excellent YouTube videos on how they are constructed.

  • Nick Votto

    Do you have some information about the materials/ energy it takes to make each turbine? And how long until the energy used for production is offset? That always seems to be lacking in renewable articles. I’m a big advocate of renewable energy and there is a lot of people that argue it takes too much material/fossil fuel to make them (I disagree)

  • Brad Dawson

    I don’t know why a group like UCS would write such a misleading headline. I guess they don’t understand that 90% of people just read the headline. There is not a wind turbine on the planet that powers anything “for a day”.

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    • ucsjrogers

      Thanks for weighing in, Brad. The headline was mine, not an editor’s; I tried on a few, and that seemed best for conveying the excitement. I do hope people read my posts, including things like needing to store the energy if you want to use it for more than those 7 seconds. The point of my post is to make the connection between the power of the turbine and our home energy use, since I think many folks (including me) would otherwise be hard pressed to put 13 megawatts into context. – John

  • Nick Cuz

    Can I turn this turbine with my diesel motor get that kind of electricity since diesel generators are so energy consuming
    My 10kw generator will turn it I’m assuming or how much horsepower do I need to turn it

    • 745.7 watts per HP. 13M watts. So you need around 17,500 HP to turn the generator at full power. That would burn a lot of diesel/money, hence the wind turbine.

      • ucsjrogers

        Thanks for asking, Nick, and thanks for responding, Thatcher.

        Nick, I’m not sure what you’re using the generator for, but offshore wind power is mostly about cleaning up our power supply (more renewables, less fossil fuel like coal and natural gas), and fueling electrification across our economy to help us dial back fossil fuels even more — think electric vehicles instead of gas-powered ones, and electric heat pumps instead of gas furnaces or oil boilers.

        – John

  • Franko Ku

    You mean for each of the seven seconds winds kick in? Nuclear power is the way to go. No doubt.

    • ucsjrogers

      Some doubt, Franko. As you may know, UCS’s nuclear position is a little more nuanced than that.

      If it helps you, though (as it certainly does us): Offshore wind turbines have much higher capacity factors than land-based wind (or solar) systems, meaning that they operate at full capacity a higher percentage of the time. For the current turbines, you’re looking at CFs of 45-50%; for the even larger turbines-to-be, it might be more than 60%. And in the Northeast, *when* they generate is a good match for winter loads.

      • Alexander Wood

        Interesting point about winter loads. The challenge with heating electrification is that solar doesn’t help much in the winter in the Northeast. We need a trifecta of large scale wind and solar along with baseload nuclear and a beefed up power grid to make this all work. Smart grid technology can move demand around for electric car charging, and some other uses, but only to a very limited degree for heating.