Wind Energy Taller wind turbine towers for Iowa.

Published on March 7th, 2014 | by Tina Casey


Iowa Eyes Concrete to Blow Past 27% Wind Power Mark

March 7th, 2014 by  

We were just talking about GE’s new taller wind turbine tower, which will hit the market next week at a whopping 139 meters, when along comes the latest American Wind Energy Association wind power report showing that the great state of Iowa now gets about 27 percent of its electricity from wind. With the tallest turbine in Iowa reaching only 94 meters, imagine what’s going to happen to Iowa wind power production when taller wind turbine towers get into the ground.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. We had a great sneak peek at GE’s new taller wind turbine tower earlier this week, and while we were talking with the folks over there the subject of taller wind turbine towers made with concrete came up. It just so happens Iowa is home to at least two of the larger cement plants in the US (concrete is cement mixed with an aggregate), so let’s take a quick look back at what we learned from GE in terms of materials and the cost of wind power.

Taller wind turbine towers for Iowa.

Wind turbine in Iowa by inkknife_2000.

Low Cost Wind Power And Taller Wind Turbine Towers

Our visit to GE took us to the Mohave desert, where the company has built a 97-meter prototype (limited to 97 by FAA regulations) for the 139-meter commercial version of its new “Space Frame” steel turbine tower. One key takeaway from our conversation there was the influence of factors on the cost of wind power other than the efficiency of the turbine itself.

In terms of the wind turbine tower, those other factors include raw materials, shipping, and labor, all of which can curtail height to cost-effective dimensions.

Within the shipping costs you also find a whole tangle of complications. One key factor there is the configuration of roads, bridges, and tunnels.

That’s why, GE pointed out to us, you’re not going to see much in the way of tubular-style wind turbine towers with a base larger than the current standard. Right now, the industry is conforming to the size of components that can get from point A to point B on a flatbed hauler, and with the size of the base curtailed, you’re not going to gain much in height from here on out.

That’s where GE’s solution comes in. It’s a steel space frame (that’s an engineering term for latticework) tower and instead of coming in a tube it has five distinct sides that are assembled on site. It can be flatpacked for transit, and the whole thing fits into standard shipping containers.

Another solution already on the market is to build all or part of the tower from concrete, though given the logistics involved with concrete that’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. It could be more cost-effective in regions where a cement plant is handy, and that’s where Iowa comes in.

Iowa And Taller Wind Towers

Iowa has four Portland cement sites, two of which are listed by the US EPA as among the larger cement plants in the country. It makes sense to give the local industry a boost and that is exactly what has been going on.

Just last May we noticed that researchers at Iowa State University are working on stress tests for a concrete wind turbine tower. Though their goal of 100 meters falls short of the GE Space Frame mark, it’s well above the currently typical range of 80 meters. The research has been funded by the state’s Grow Iowa Values economic development fund.

Also with the state’s cement facilities in mind, back in 2011 Spain-based Acciona Windpower announced plans for building concrete wind turbine towers in Iowa. We don’t have an update on that project but the company does have a turbine with a 120-meter concrete tower on the market.

Iowa At 27% Wind Power

Iowa is one of eleven states that are part of MISO, a regional grid operator that is very keen on wind power. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R) has also been an aggressive champion for extending the production tax credit for wind power, despite his party’s marked lack of enthusiasm.

Those are two key factors driving the state’s growth in wind power. According to the latest report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), wind power accounted for 27 percent of the total electricity production in the state in 2013.

It looks like we ain’t seen nothing yet. Another key factor in Iowa’s wind energy growth is Warren Buffet, the well known investor. His MidAmerican Energy company is already heavily involved in the Iowa wind industry and just last year he announced that he would pour another $1.9 billion into new wind farms in Iowa.

Note: for the record, we got that figure of 94 meters for Iowa’s tallest wind turbine tower from the Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State (it happens to be a GE project, coincidentally). If you know of a taller one in the state, please let us know in the comment thread.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • cwm

    The technical term is “panties in a knot” and that is what some folks here suffer from.

  • RamboSTiTCH

    The only concrete towers I’ve seen in my home state are these old AT&T towers ( About 190 feet tall…

  • Hans

    “That’s why, GE pointed out to us, you’re not going to see much in the
    way of tubular-style wind turbine towers with a base larger than the
    current standard. Right now, the industry is conforming to the size of
    components that can get from point A to point B on a flatbed hauler, and
    with the size of the base curtailed, you’re not going to gain much in
    height from here on out.”

    There are other solutions: For the larger wind turbines Enercon splits the rings that make out the tubular tower in quarters, thus solving the transport problem.

    • Ulenspiegel

      A little bit strange article indeed. Enercon builds “Hybridtürme” (lit. “hybrid towers” = partially guyed towers) with an hight of 135 metre since 2007 for their E-126, Max Bögl company offers such towers with 150 metres.

      • Hans

        The Enercon hybrid towers have a standard tubular design, with a concreter bottom part and a steel top part is steel. The “hybrid” comes from the use of these two different types of material. These towers are not guyed, i.e. they are not anchored with steel cables. Translation error?

        • Ulenspiegel

          Yes, translation error! 🙂

  • TCFlood


    I see a lot of confusion regarding the nameplate capacity of installations vs. the amount of GWh of energy really delivered to the grid. This ~27% of total electric energy is real delivered energy?

    If so,it’s a good example of what is possible, especially to the red states all around Iowa (although it is true that most of the surrounding states don’t have as high wind velocities as Iowa does).

    • Bob_Wallace

      That’s 27% of total electricity demand produced by wind.

      Iowa is shooting for 50% by 2015.

      South Dakota is only slightly trailing Iowa at 23.9%. North Dakota, Wisconsin and Kansas are in the game. Nebraska, for some strange reason, is late to the party.

      There’s new transmission being built that’s going to boost the amount of wind moving to eastern markets.

      • TCFlood

        That Nebraska is late to the party is nutsoid given that they probably have the best total wind velocity in the US. I assume it’s politics and the cost of transmission?

        Is the 3 GW nameplate wind farm that Anschutz was to build in Wyoming still underway? That transmission from the farm to southern Nevada was projected to cost $3 billion.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I see a couple of places that list Nebraska as having the 4th best onshore wind resources in the lower 48.

          I have no idea why they are starting so late with wind. I don’t think of Nebraska as one of our reddest/anti-everything states, but perhaps they are.
          Interesting how money softens political will….

          I think the Wyoming transmission line is supposed to start construction this year. When it and some wind farms come on line it’s going to be interesting to see what happens to the “California duck”.

          • Roland

            Nebraska formerly had laws regulating the production of electricity. Generators were owned by the state (or power district) and planned by a state board. Also it was illegal to sell generated electricity outside the state. These laws generally worked well for Nebraskans, as they ensured the production was efficient and they didn’t have to compete with out of state interests for electricity. But several years ago, they realized that the laws needed updating, so now are starting to develop wind power.

  • tate0774

    Funny that US terminology has gone totally astray here. A real turbine (Pelton turbine or a jet engine) has a nacelle, i.e., a housing around the blades. These so-called wind turbines are simply wind mills. Actually, Brits have tested a real wind turbine reaching an efficiency in excess of 50 % and it had a nacelle.
    Please, stop speaking about wind turbines. Here in Finland, we are true to the word. Our legislation managed to adopt the term “tuulimylly” and “tuulivoimala” (wind mill and will power farm), In fact, I’m partially responsible to this accurate terminology by datamining information and editing the proposal for the Finnish wind mill recommendations.
    Taisto Leinonen, M.Sc.(electronics)
    Helsinki, Finland
    (ex Chief-in-Editor Electronics News in Finland9

    • Bob_Wallace

      Funny thing is, we speak US English in the US.

      Here in the US a mill is a device for grinding grain. You are free to use your own terminology in Finland.

      • tate0774

        How perplexed can I be as a certified translator (English into Finnish) and a member of a Finnish terminology committee. When even Wikipedia cannot decide between a wind turbine and a windmill ( by telling that windmills were used in Persia 200 B.C. and yankees are bringing water up from ground by windmills as illustrated in all westerns (in my student years I changed reels for Wagon Train in a private tv company), I will be glad to allow wind turbines in your daily jargon.
        Nevertheless, in my humble opinion, they are not turbines unless some nacelle is mounted about the three-bladed propeller.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Here’s how we use nacelle in US English.

          “A nacelle /nəˈsɛl/ is a cover housing that houses all of the generating components in a wind turbine, including the generator, gearbox, drive train, and brake assembly.”

          What you are talking about we would call a wind turbine (or wind mill) with enclosed blades.

          • tate0774

            Thanks, Bob. No offence, but since starting reading
            English from my ARRL R

            radio amateurs handbook, 1956 Edition, having my licence as OH2HV in 1956, too, I have been following the development of American scientific terminology.
            Terminology is an area similar to religious trends. One launches a term such as christianity or islam. People adopt the term without considering the implications thereof. Next, particularly in the era of internet, everything once seen is irrevocable.
            So, let’s agree that you have wind turbines and we have windmills (by the way, even in Finland, we have used wind- or water-driven mills for milling grains way before your ancestors sailed to the USA.
            I have a stamp from 1938 inaugurating Finnish emigrants entering Delaware in 1638.
            Unfortunately, my clock is 11:35 PM. So, I wish you a good night and once you choose to visit Finland, feel free to see windmills in our nature. A problem, however, is in that, when we have -30 oC outside, our windmils have a standstill.
            So much for the green wind energy in the north.
            Luckily we have some nuclear power plants with the highest availabilty records around the world.

          • Hans

            It took you a long detour to make your little point. Especially funny since your new nuclear reactor is currently seven years behind schedule and at about 4 billion Euro over budget.

          • tate0774

            Not our fault. French conglomerate company Areva started the project with flying colors, blamed Finnish nuclear safety authorities for excessively strict control, hired incompetent subcontractors who cast substandard concrete, and much more is in the lists.
            Now Areva is suing Finns for delay. That’s French logic. When the contractor cannot manage the project, the client is to blame.

          • Hans

            And who selected Areva, and agreed to sloppy contracts?

  • Wayne Williamson

    I wonder if it would be worth while to pursue a 50/50 mix of concrete and steel(or aluminum/composite). ie, pour the lower 50 meters with reinforced concrete and attach the rest to the top of that….just a thought.

    • Wayne Williamson

      Oh, and I think its awesome that they are getting almost 30 percent of their electricity from wind…..

  • Matt

    Could have used a pic of one of these existing concrete towers. And your 3 link to CTs don’t either.

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