A recent grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) will help test new turbine tower materials and erection methods that could revolutionize the wind energy industry.
As wind turbines gain in size and capacity, they become more cost effective as power plants. At the same time, however, the freight costs associated with transportation of the components – particularly the towers – and the necessity for specialized cranes become a considerable part of a project’s financial equation.
Windtower Composites (WT), a Utah based technology company in partnership with SeaWest Wind Power , Inc has been selected as one of three technology teams awarded a grant for the CEC’s “Expanded Wind Regime Turbine Technology and Intermittency Management Demonstration” project solicitation. WindTower Composites, a Heber City company, received $1.5 million to demonstrate its composite wind turbine tower at a site in California in Dec. ’05. The Altamount pass site, owned by SeaWest was specifically selected for demonstration of expanded wind resources at greater heights using the new tower technology.
Previously, WT received two consecutive grants from the United States Department of Energy (DOE) for $850,000 to develop, engineer, and test the components of a 80 meter, 1.5 megawatt, lightweight wind turbine tower that uses a unique space frame geometry of carbon composite tubes. This funding also supported the engineering of a crane-less elevator lifting system for installation of the turbine and blades.
A final 65 meter and preliminary 125 meter tower design along with subscale testing have been completed with help from Brigham Young University and Southern Utah University. Full scale tube manufacturing as well as ultimate and fatigue testing at Brigham Young University will begin in late winter and is scheduled for completion in June ‘05.
The CEC grant money will offset some of the remaining costs to manufacture the crane-less elevator lifting system. WT will then use 50 percent matching funds in partnership with SeaWest Wind Power, Inc. , to purchase the 1.5 MW wind turbine to be used for testing and certification of a 80m tower/turbine combination at the California test site. This demonstration is the first step towards certification of the world’s tallest tower for 1.5 MW turbines at 125m expected in ’06.
“At standard heights, the lower weight, on-site assembly, and crane-less installation will enable small projects as well as logistically difficult sites such as ridgetops, islands, and other remote areas lacking roads infrastructure and crane access while the taller 125m tower is unique in its ability to capture more wind at greater heights at low cost” says Tracy Livingston, President of Wind Tower Composites.
“This will enable the development of Class 3 wind sites, which historically have been uneconomical to develop. Many areas are known to have a vast number of Class 3 wind sites that could be economically developed with this new technology,” added Livingston.
According to the company, the taller tower is expected to demonstrate a substantial reduction in costs of energy in even low wind shear locals.
Wasatch Wind, an affiliate of Wind Tower Composites, also plans to incorporate the space frame tower when it builds a small community owned wind farm in Spanish Fork Canyon. Currently, this wind farm is engaged in the permitting process with Spanish Fork City and has installed an 82 meter IsoTruss meteorological tower to verify the wind speeds. Wind Tower Composites will use the Spanish Fork site to further demonstrate the composite tower with the goal of obtaining certification from Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL). Certification is necessary to sell these towers to turbine manufacturers and other third parties. Once certification of the Wind Tower Composites has concluded, WT plans to build a manufacturing plant for the turbine towers in rural Utah in 2006 creating jobs and increasing its tax base.
Wind Tower Composites developed space frame towers to support large wind turbines comprising segments of lightweight composite tubes assembled into a 3-d matrix. For aesthetics, the frame is covered overall with a thin composite sheathing to achieve the look of a steel tube tower. Used to support 1.2MW turbines in heights from 60 to 100m and larger, the tower can be easily assembled at a wind farm site. Less than 10% the weight of steel tube towers, the lighter weight and onsite assembly enables self-erection and the complete elimination of expensive larger cranes from the job site. In addition, the efficient use of lightweight composites provides a more economical structure than standard steel tube towers and reduces the escalating costs of ground transportation. Contrasted to steel towers, this innovative structure has a combined cost reduction of greater than 35% resulting in a greater than 10% reduction in cost of energy at a typical class 5 wind farm.
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