Jumbo Jet Moment: How Big Can Offshore Wind Turbines Get?

January 4, 2021

The Wind Industry is now in its 747 Jumbo Jet moment.


The 747 went into service in the early 1970s, at a time of major societal change. It drove exponential growth in air travel, tourism, and connections between people around the world. In its first year, a fully-loaded 747 cut the cost of flying a passenger by half. Flying became instantly more accessible.

New York Times:

Twirling above a strip of land at the mouth of Rotterdam’s harbor is a wind turbine so large it is difficult to photograph. The turning diameter of its rotor is longer than two American football fields end to end. Later models will be taller than any building on the mainland of Western Europe.

Packed with sensors gathering data on wind speeds, electricity output and stresses on its components, the giant whirling machine in the Netherlands is a test model for a new series of giant offshore wind turbines planned by General Electric. When assembled in arrays, the wind machines have the potential to power cities, supplanting the emissions-spewing coal- or natural gas-fired plants that form the backbones of many electric systems today.

G.E. has yet to install one of these machines in ocean water. As a relative newcomer to the offshore wind business, the company faces questions about how quickly and efficiently it can scale up production to build and install hundreds of the turbines.

But already the giant turbines have turned heads in the industry. A top executive at the world’s leading wind farm developer called it a “bit of a leapfrog over the latest technology.” And an analyst said the machine’s size and advance sales had “shaken the industry.”

The prototype is the first of a generation of new machines that are about a third more powerful than the largest already in commercial service. As such, it is changing the business calculations of wind equipment makers, developers and investors.

The G.E. machines will have a generating capacity that would have been almost unimaginable a decade ago. A single one will be able to turn out 13 megawatts of power, enough to light up a town of roughly 12,000 homes.

The turbine, which is capable of producing as much thrust as the four engines of a Boeing 747 jet, according to G.E., will be deployed at sea, where developers have learned that they can plant larger and more numerous turbines than on land to capture breezes that are stronger and more reliable.

The race to build bigger turbines has moved faster than many industry figures foresaw. G.E.’s Haliade-X generates almost 30 times more electricity than the first offshore machines installed off Denmark in 1991.

In coming years, customers are likely to demand even bigger machines, industry executives say. On the other hand, they predict that, just as commercial airliners peaked with the Airbus A380, turbines will reach a point where greater size no longer makes economic sense.

“We will also reach a plateau; we just don’t know where it is yet,” said Morten Pilgaard Rasmussen, chief technology officer of the offshore wind unit of Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, the leading maker of offshore turbines.


9 Responses to “Jumbo Jet Moment: How Big Can Offshore Wind Turbines Get?”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Thanks for the post and information of this very impressive wind turbine evolution. I could sympathize with the NIMBY crowd if they were to appear in urban settlements, but out in the open sea, only the pelagic fish around to complain of spoilt views. Not watched the video yet, will do when time allows.

    The winds are stronger the higher one goes – so the development makes sense – and still development is taking place on airborne turbines to reach even higher. We need to use the power of nature to satisfy our lusts and demands and touch the powers of the jet stream. One day in the not too distant future we will have to start sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere (to have any chance of returning to our golden Holocene epoch), these aerial turbines may be able to assist in efforts for that too.

    Good to see we are reaching for the sky and thanks for your constant work and encouragement to us faithful readers – happy new year Peter and your regular readers


    Airborne wind turbines, some of which are 300 metres in height, may yet become more common in future. The higher velocity and persistence of wind at high altitudes means turbines become stronger the more evenly the wind blows.


  2. grindupbaker Says:

    If it’s rated at 13 megawatts then it’s most unlikely to “be able to turn out 13 megawatts”. I vaguely recall that these large offshore ones are said to produce ~60% of name plate rather than the ~30% of name plate that a UK G.E. bloke stated for their 2.5 MW installed in some fields.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      They can indeed pump out 13 MW; that’s their rated capacity, for power. The “60%” (actually 63% for the 12 MW version; I suspect it’s a little higher for the 13 and 14 MW versions) is the capacity factor, the amount of energy it churns out over a period of time (usually calculated over a year to account for seasonal variations) compared to how much it would have if it were pumping it out at its rated capacity the whole time. And yes, the new ones are revolutionary in their capacity factor; that’s crucial in eliminating fossil fuels and meshing with solar, hydro, geothermal, etc. Even with smaller 6 MW turbines, Hywind, the first floating wind farm, out farther at sea in higher and steadier winds, reached 65% in its first winter and 56% year-round.

      Wind peaks mostly at night and in the winter, while solar obviously peaks at midday in summer, (away from the equator, anyway). Hydro is generally more even but still tends to peak in spring. Even without batteries, using widely geographically distributed generation and a little overcapacity (like we use now) we can come very close to powering the world with 100% clean safe renewable energy, cheaper than it is now. Since solar capacity factor can’t be budged much, (at least without triboelectric generation or piezoelectric nanogeneration built in to harvest power from the impact of falling rain) and hydro can’t be improved much except with pumped storage, so continuing to increase wind capacity factors will be crucial in covering humanity’s needs. As more new turbines are built and old ones are replaced, both the average and marginal size will keep increasing. So will capacity factor and our ability to provide what we need.


  3. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    These certainly are great, pun intended.
    Does anyone know the cost and build time of these? Cannot find info anywhere, suggesting both are high, which is a very peripheral concern IMO.

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