This Month’s World’s Largest Wind Turbine Goes Operational

A new wind turbine installed in the Taiwan Strait went online last week, as part of the Fujian offshore wind farm project by the China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG). The system is the MySE 16-260, designed by the Ming Yang Wind Power Group, one of the leading manufacturers of wind turbines in the world. The numbers are staggering, the 16MW generator is projected to provide 66 GWh (gigawatt-hours) to the power grid annually. And this is a hefty installation, with a 260 m rotor diameter ( three each 123 m blades ) sitting atop a 152 m tower. The location is both a blessing and a curse, being an area of the Pacific that experiences Beaufort level 7 winds ( near gale, whole trees in motion ) for more than 200 days per year. Understandably, the tower and support structures are beefy, designed to survive sustained winds of 287 km/h.

This 16 MW installation surpasses the previous record holder, announced this January — the Vestas V236-15.0MW turbine with 115.5 m blades, located in Denmark’s Østerild Wind Turbine Test Center. But wait … Ming Yang also announced in January their new 18 MW turbine with 140 m long blades.

We imagine that there will eventually be a natural plateau, where the cost of the next humongous installation approaches or exceeds that of multiple smaller ones. Or will these multi-megawatt turbine systems just keep leapfrogging each other, year after year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

56 thoughts on “This Month’s World’s Largest Wind Turbine Goes Operational

  1. The only argument from a sensible pov is how much energy was used to create energy i.e. when will it break even. What kind of energy was used is usually laughably sensitive.

      1. And they’re getting better – there’s recycleable blades in the works now.

        Also people treat “WhAt AbOuT tHe BlAdEs” as if old blades are some sort of toxic waste when in reality they are just a big lump of inert material like your old sofa – not really recycleable but no worse sitting in landfill or ground up as filler than anything else humanity throws away.

        1. >as if old blades are some sort of toxic waste

          The resins kinda are. The usual component of the resin is Methyl methacrylate which is an irritant in low concentrations and toxic when eaten by organisms.

      1. Interestingly, the lower power turbine installation in Denmark boasts an even higher annual energy statistic — 80 GWh vs 66 GWh. Maybe the Danish winds are stronger than Taiwan’s?

          1. Although you can artificially trick the numbers by under-sizing the generator relative to the turbine, so you’re maxing out on nameplate capacity more of the time and achieve a greater capacity factor by accounting.

    1. Energy break-even is one metric, but economic break-even is still a valid metric because every dollar of GDP has a real cost in energy and materials.

      Energy to build is one thing, you also need energy to come up with the money to pay the industry and all the people involved.

    2. These offshore wind farms are turning into white elephants.[1][2][3]

      1. As renewable-energy demand soars amid extreme heat, rising costs are making offshore wind projects so expensive that ‘it doesn’t make sense to continue’

      By Will Mathis and Bloomberg, July 22, 2023 at 11:34 AM EDT

      2. How Offshore Wind Can Survive Its Spell in the Doldrums

      Analysis by David Fickling | Bloomberg, July 28, 2023 at 3:27 a.m. EDT

      3. White Elephant

      A white elephant is a possession that its owner cannot dispose of, and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness. In modern usage, it is a metaphor used to describe an object, construction project, scheme, business venture, facility, etc. considered expensive but without equivalent utility or value relative to its capital (acquisition) and/or operational (maintenance) costs.

      1. Not really white elephant at all – once you built the damn thing it is still making money. The problem highlighted here is that the cost to make them as shot up rapidly because of world events, making the old contract prices to build them no longer viable. But as the demand and price of energy isn’t going down any time soon once the contracts are renegotiated to account for the rapid jump in construction costs so the turbines can actually get built…

  2. Rotor swept area – and therefore available wind power – goes up with the square of blade length, while blade mass and tower-top mass go up with less than the square of blade length. So on cost-of-materials terms, the argument is always for bigger turbines.

    Each turbine needs a shore connection. While the connection does get more expensive as the turbine gets bigger, it’s not by much compared to the cost of installing it. Again, the argument is for fewer, larger turbines.

    The only cost factor that pushes the other way is the difficulty of erecting a larger turbine and the availability of equipment needed to do it. This availability has been one of the main drivers of the cost of offshore wind for quite a while now.

    For a location with force 7 winds two days out of three, I imagine sitting around and waiting for suitable conditions to erect it is also a significant factor, but maybe it’s very seasonal or something.

    1. Except that you can make tiny turbines with poor materials and poor construction techniques – which aren’t relevant anywhere near this scale, but it’s worth pointing out.

    2. Then again, the stresses on the whole structure, such as the gearbox, go up linearly with the power and you’ll have troubles making the whole thing survive high winds and storms, so the reliability factor can trump the economy of scale just as easily.

      In fact, getting the generator and the gearbox to survive the whole 25 year expected lifespan IS what has been holding these megaturbines back for decades. Megawatt-scale wind turbines were under-engineered in the past because they got replaced every time the subsidy term ran out after 10-12 years. They didn’t NEED to last any longer to make profit, with the public paying 2-3x the worth of the power through price guarantees, so they were simply abandoned or torn down after the subsidies ended, and replaced with new ones with new subsidies.

    3. Reliability of big wind turbines goes way down with power, since the whole structure has to withstand the power and torque. Previously with megawatt-scale turbines this wasn’t an issue because they would simply abandon or tear them down and replace them after the 10-12 years the subsidies lasted, with the public paying 2-3x the value of the energy they were producing. That’s why the largest megawatt-scale turbines have always been under-engineered and have had huge troubles with reliability, with the gearboxes and the generators breaking constantly.

      Non-subsidized wind power needs to last 25+ years to make ends meet in the economic sense, so we will see how this turns out. In China it is possible to make these sort of decisions, since they’re hardly paying anyone to build these things.

    4. There is one big factor that makes an ever bigger turbine diameter less ideal, the tip speed of the blades goes up as they get longer, which both increases erosion and provides a pretty hard limiting factor to making a bigger blade – you don’t want it exceeding the speed of sound all the time…

      I’d suggest that actually the big turbines from about 10 maybe 15 years ago are probably just about optimal – small enough that the blades last pretty well (ones that have been removed are often in near new condition years later when that turbine is replaced by a bigger one), but big enough to reliably catch a worthwhile amount of wind.

      Balance the maintenance costs and lifespan of components vs the upfront fiscal cost and required power generation – I’d suggest the best solution lies with low maintenance and longer life even with the trade off that brings of higher upfront costs and lower power output. But it isn’t going to be the most short term profitable and may not be the best ecologically right now either – phasing out the fossil fuel quickly requires lots of energy from other sources as quickly as possible, so a shorter lifespan is perhaps a worthwhile trade.

      1. No. Maximum tip speed, more or less, stays constant. Max operating RPM goes down with blade length.

        I’d like to see an undriven blade exceed the speed of sound a the tip. It takes insane amounts of power to do that and the noise is GLORIOUS. Better than a pulsejet.

        1. The tip speeds really have not stayed constant at all – you could do it that way if you really wanted to, but when the bigger wing and wind catching area of a large rotor increases the potential energy you can extract so much more than the drag and friction of being bigger take it away – you would be making it bigger for very little purpose if you didn’t let the tip speed go up. So the larger turbines are travelling faster at the tip than the small ones in the real world (in general), they might also spin a bit slower in RPM count terms, but when the blade diameters have more than doubled…

  3. Whilst it might be good for bragging rights, does it make long term sense. Losing a large generator to a fault would cause power cuts and be difficult to repair in bad weather. Whereas, multiple smaller generators could more easily cover the loss of one or two. Due to the inertia of the blades is the minimum starting wind speed higher.
    As more and more wind turbines are being built but I have not seen or heard of any recent study into the affect this has on weather patterns. You can not say that extracting energy from the wind has no effect. Has any study been made into the possible effect of larger and larger wind turbines?

    1. Since wind forms from the difference between hot and cold areas, the wind is still going to get where it wants to go. Think of a stream: if you add stepping stones they’ll briefly change the flow of water but 10′ downstream everything is back to normal. Air is still fluid dynamics.

    2. I have been thinking about this. There is a finite amount of energy on the wind, so what happens to the environment as we extract higher and higher percentages of this energy out of the system? For example, if an island nation was encircled by wind turbines that could extract 10% of wind energy, what would the result be for life on the island?

      1. I’m pulling this straight out of my bottom, but I think it would be an enormous engineering challenge to extract 10% of wind energy even for a small island.

        Your question is still interesting though. The energy did go somewhere else before the turbines were built…

      2. “What would the result be for life on the island?”

        In theory if your “world villain assumption” would be do-able, the island would not be flodded so often by storm driven sea, as they are affected today, already by the rising ocean levels and the bigger energy which is into the atmosphere (increased median temperature means: more heat energy in atmosphere and sinks/source of heat will produce kinetic energy.)

      3. I do remember a few decades ago spoofing a theory that wind turbines would steadily reduce the rotation speed of the earth as they were removing energy from a closed environment! I did it to wind up a ‘holy than thou’ person at a conference I was at.

        But now I wonder :-) …

        1. That’s technically true, but, the earth is so heavy, we’d need such a huge number of turbines to cause even a leap second per year, it’s unrealistic. Remember that the tides are stealing energy from the rotation of the earth too, and on a scale many magnitudes larger than our yearly energy consumption.

    3. Multiple:
      That assessment is correct, even today it is a welcome side-effect .
      When I monitored turbines in a storm I could actually see the high wind_v center of the storm shutting down turbines, but while it was moving, the passed by turbines sprung back into action, without the turbines in the greater areas not being effected and due to the higher wind speeds compensating for the loss. One way its pretty obvious, on the other hand that demonstrated the advantage of having multiple wind turbines.

      Yes-But-But, the bigger stop-effect is rotor imbalance that the wind needs to overcome, as well as bearing friction.

      But1: You can “jump start” wind turbines, the generator can be also driven as a motor (permanent-exc as well as controlled-exc) so you can give the rotor rotary kinetic energy from the grid, that in combination with the present wind speeds will buffer all the bumps away. Also think of friction getting smaller for moving systems.

      But2: Bigger rotors will generate a bigger torque, wtg with big rotors generally have lower cut-in wind speeds and lower rated wind speeds.

      Wind turbine effects:
      Yes, studies have been conducted: outcome, local effects -> yes, but not damaging as it is an energy sink, like a forest or a even a hill/mountain – or even a city with big buildings.

      But that is not dissimilar to nuclear and fossil pp, or nat./art. waterways/canals (-> cooling will dump huge amounts of energy into water -> evaporation -> effect on local weather) -> and these are in energy production cases energy sources.

    4. The inertia isn’t really a problem – wind tends to stick around more than a moment so they will get it up to speed eventually as long as it is strong enough wind to make it move at all – all the inertia does is make it take longer to get up to speed and stay rotating longer as the wind dies. It is the friction in the bearings that really defines the wind speed required to start the rotor spinning, and that friction will be reasonably similar for all the windmill built in similar style, which makes a bigger blade much better at getting starting in low winds.

      I do agree though that a more distributed network of smaller ones has advantages, and you are correct a windfarm will make some difference to the weather. But really not much – even the tallest and largest windfarm is only dipping a toe in the vastly deep ocean of our atmosphere, even if it took 99% of the available energy at its level (which it doesn’t) there is so much more up there. It is more like an artificial forest…

  4. I’d imagine the biggest limiting factor will be the forces on the blades, and the speed of the blade tips (I expect you don’t want them to go supersonic). As far as I’m aware (and I’m no expert), you want the individual turbines to be as big as possible, all else being equal. My guess is there’ll be some plateau for a given type of construction / anchoring / material, and then an eventual big jump again once a significantly better method is developed.

    1. Your imaginations are all spot-on. I’m, personally, much more excited to see how floating foundations (the wind turbine is a fancy buoy) develop than to see bigger and bigger turbines (though that’s also cool).

    1. “modify the weather by creating clouds” really. Let’s ground all aircraft that fly high enough to make contrails on any given day. I’d be into that. I live under one of the most overflown places on earth and near one of the biggest wind farms. I’ve never seen clouds spinning off the blades or in their wake. Over 40 years ago I read a report of a study concerning the amount of loss of sunshine that our midwest farms are getting due to aircraft flight density. There is even an official designation of contrail caused clouds.

      I call ’em Skyslugs. See their trails in the sky. Maybe a high powered Bug-Assault (salt) rifle might cause them to be writhing on the ground covered in slime, and blue skies above.

  5. Wind and solar are junk and overpriced technologies for powering an energy dependent society. Nuclear would have been the better route. The amount of fossil fuels to make these things and construct them is staggering for the return in energy.

  6. I’m not sure so I will ask: I would think that there is an optimum RPM for generating electricity, and that feathering the blades to maintain that RPM (or narrow range of RPM) would be the way to go, similar to a “constant speed” airplane prop. So I’m guessing that as the wind gets stronger and stronger and RPM stays the same, the amount of electricity generated goes up. Makes sense so far. But the question is: is there a way of, like, increasing the resistance or something at the motor/generator too? Or in other words some sort of dynamic changes to the generator itself to increase resistance (keep RPM of blades moderated) with knock-on effect of more electricity? What I’m getting at is yeah I’d expect for huge blades in even a moderate wind the tips would quickly go supersonic so at some not-so-high wind speed even feathering the blades would be insufficient and some other electro-mechanical means of throttling the RPM is necessary. Sorry that is rambling.

    1. My thoughts are whilst its constructed to withstand the high windspeeds, is it able to generate then, or need parking? Thus if 2/3 days are gales, 1/3 days are good for generating?

      Many things are specced for high wind speeds (to not self destruct) – take bridges, but when the high speeds come then the bridges are closed for safety.

  7. I would expect at some wind speed the blades can go negative pitch to stop them from spinning and just be drag. Some places just yaw them 90 degrees to the wind direction and apply blade brakes. Pretty sure they don’t ever go supersonic. You would hear that from 20 miles away as a sonic boom that never stopped

    1. >Pretty sure they don’t ever go supersonic. You would hear that from 20 miles away as a sonic boom that never stopped

      Unless they are designed to go supersonic (which I doubt), it’s likely you’d have a RUD of they ever did. You’d probably still hear it.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.