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How are wind turbines made?

11 September 2017

With a drive to use more renewable energy, the sight of wind turbines has become commonplace. Have you wondered what goes into making these structures?

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The UK now has about 6,000 onshore and 1,500 offshore wind turbines, while in mainland Europe, France, Netherlands, Finland, Ireland and Lithuania all spent record amounts on new wind turbines in 2016, while Germany and Spain still lead the way in terms of the wind power they use.

But, have you ever stopped to consider what goes into making these structures?

The key parts of a wind turbine

Of course, wind power has been harnessed for centuries, with windmills used to pump water or grind grain. Now, however, structures use the natural weather conditions we experience to generate electricity.

There are, as AZO Cleantech notes, several key components that make up every wind turbine:

• A tower which is typically a tube or lattice made of steel
• A rotor with (usually three) blades. This is made from carbon-fibre plastic or glass fibre
• A nacelle shell containing a gearbox
Sensors and electrical equipment to feed energy into the grid

While these are the main parts, there are others that handle functions such as cooling or heating.

Construction process

The tower is the first thing to be constructed – and the steel sections can be put together on-site or in a factory – after which they’d need to be transported by a specialist logistics firm which could handle large-scale constructions.

The parts need to be bolted together and this tower, which makes up the vast bulk of the 75m plus height of the turbine is kept horizontal until it is ready to be craned into position.

The rest of the parts are constructed individually and are then fitted into place once the tower is bolted into the ground – with the nacelle attached first and then blades before the control systems are added.

The materials need to be protected from the elements – when on or off shore they will have be exposed to all four seasons. In many cases this means using specialist paint which can only be applied to surfaces that have been properly prepared with blasting equipment so that this layer will ‘stick’ and last for a guaranteed period – which is crucial for maintenance and to avoid costly repairs.

The drive for bigger turbines

One thing that might well change in the coming years is in the size of the turbines used.

The Daily Mail recently published impressive pictures of the 220m tall turbines with 80m propellers which is the largest structure of its kind – and can generate 260,000kwh in just 24 hours (enough power for hundreds of homes for a whole month).

The circumference of the rotator alone is bigger than the London Eye – but this is unlikely to retain the crown of world’s largest turbine for long. 

In the US researchers are plotting a 479m high turbine, which will be 30m taller than the Empire State Building and should generate 25 times more energy than a typical turbine. Everything is bigger in America, right?

Chelsea Ellsworth is an experienced and enthusiastic freelance writer who has written for a variety of online publications and magazines

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