There’s a lot of fluff out there regarding “futuristic” wind turbines. (See here, here, here, here, and here for example.) The thing is, when it comes to financial competitiveness, nothing seems to come close to the three-blade, horizontal-axis wind turbine design that dominates the market. That said, the design of wind turbines has been consistently getting better via incremental or innovative improvements, driving costs lower and lower.
A couple of ways wind turbines have been getting better and better are via increasing height, and improvements to the gearboxes (or removal of gearboxes altogether). There’s also been some movement to make turbine design more modular, allowing for easier and cheaper transport. A new wind turbine design from the Dutch “Godfather of Wind” (Henk Lagerweij) seems to offer big steps forward in each of these realms, and I got to visit one of these first turbines and “the Godfather” himself on my recent trip to the Netherlands (thanks to CleanTechnica reader and cleantech leader Remco van der Horst for organizing the meeting).
First of all, for some background, you can check out this article on the company Henk started in 1979, Lagerwey.
Now that you’ve done that, here’s a video of his new wind turbine and my interview with him (the soundtrack is “wind” — apologies if it plays a bit too loud at points):
If you didn’t watch the video, or even if you did, I’ll help you out by summarizing some of the key points and adding a few facts.
First of all, this wind turbine is now the tallest turbine in the Netherlands, reaching 135 meters high. The record height is achievable through some of the turbine’s other benefits. One is that it’s gearless, magnet-based direct drive design eliminates the typical (giant) gearbox and rotor found in most other wind turbines. The rotors on large turbines using conventional wind turbine technology are so gigantic that they sometimes require road closures and present quite large transportation challenges and costs. To support those giant machines, the bases of typical wind turbine towers also need to be much bigger, and thus more costly to produce and more costly to transport.
The turbine is also designed for modular construction, further cutting transport costs.
Still, do the financial benefits offset the cost of these magnet-based wind turbines? Henk says they do, very much so.
Aside from the benefits above, he noted that they work better than conventional turbines in areas of low wind speeds, as well as high wind speeds.
Wind turbines are currently the cheapest option for new electricity generation in much (if not most) of the world. So it’s hard to believe that something (even a new wind turbine design) could be cheaper until you crunch the numbers yourself, or see strong proof that the costs are absurdly low relative to the electricity output. This design looks promising to me, and Henk seems like a trustworthy expert who is convinced about the competitiveness of his product, but we’ll have to see how things turn out.
While I was there, Henk was being interviewed by a big regional TV station because of the turbine and a recent order in the area for several of them. He also noted that they were scaling up production capacity very fast. Keep your eyes open — this may well be the future of wind turbines.
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