Spiral Welding May (Finally) Bring More Wind Turbines to the Southeast US
Wind power fans watched large swathes of the southeastern United States seek new opportunities, only to be thwarted by relatively thin wind resources and unfavorable political winds as well. Not much can be done about the latter, but the former problem could be solved by taller wind turbines that can harvest more optimal wind speeds at higher altitudes. After that, it’s only a matter of time before the political biscuit collapses.
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Taller wind turbines for everyone
Designing taller wind towers is not as easy as it seems. The rising cost of materials, labor, and other items is just one impediment. Infrastructure issues prevent larger components from being transported, including bridges, tunnels, and winding roads.
On the positive side, taller towers can accommodate longer blades, which improves the advantage of harvesting high-altitude winds.
This explains why the US Department of Energy is looking for taller wind towers. They could be a cost-effective route to unlocking new energy resources in southeastern states and other regions with less than optimal wind speeds at lower elevations.
The long road to taller turbine towers: hands-on edition
Concrete has been used in the construction of turbine towers for a relatively short time, but it could have a decisive impact on the height of the turbine.
GE is a company that is looking at concrete to help raise the height of steel turbine towers, without running into transportation issues. The idea is to park a conventional steel tower on a tall concrete column, instead of a slab. To overcome transport obstacles, the column could be manufactured on site.
Pouring the concrete on site could raise new cost issues related to the on-site construction schedule and the cost of labor. GE has worked to overcome these obstacles with the 3D printing company COBOD and the sustainable construction company Holcim. The result is a modular and transportable 3D printed concrete system. Once on site, the printer can be serviced by a small team.
What about the steel tower?
As GE puts the finishing touches on its 3D concrete system, the Energy Department worked with Denver-based Keystone Tower Systems to increase the height of the steel turbine towers, and last month the The agency’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory announced that the new “spiral” welding technology is ready for the commercial market.
âWith more than $7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Keystone Tower Systems developed a solution: a spiral welding technique, borrowed from the steel pipeline industry, to build some of the tallest market turbine towers. Spiral welding occurs when the steel used to make the tower is rolled into a cylinder; essentially, these towers are constructed from steel plates that are several meters wide,â explains NREL.
âThe technique only requires one machine to build a tower section, and it can produce towers up to twice as tall and 10 times faster than conventional towers,â enthuses NREL.
As with the 3D printed concrete system, spiral welding equipment can be shipped and applied on site, eliminating transportation issues that plague larger components.
âA single machine will use steel shipped flat to the site to perform assembly, rolling, fitting, welding and parting for the continuous production of tapered steel tower shells. These on-site manufacturing facilities can be deployed on short notice and prove a megawatt-per-day scale towerâsays Keystone.
Wind turbines for everyone
The spiral welding method also reduces the amount of steel needed for the same height. In addition to building taller towers, spiral welding could be used to reduce the cost of materials for shorter towers, and that seems to be part of the plan.
This opens up new opportunities in the field of distributed wind power, which is another area of ââinterest for the Energy Department. Distributed wind refers to wind turbines of any size that generate electricity for on-site use, such as powering equipment in a factory.
The Energy Department is particularly interested in bringing distributed wind turbines to farms, where they could be used to produce green hydrogen for fuel manufacturing and ammonia fertilizer, among other tasks. The idea would be to relieve farmers of price spikes and supply chain issues for essential goods, by enabling on-site production. Reducing the cost of wind turbines fits perfectly into this picture.
Keystone Tower Systems don’t let the grass grow under his feet. The company has spent the last year accelerating its commercial projects production at a site in Pampa, Texas, and last week our friends at Wind energy engineering noted that the plant is indeed operational.
The initial cohort of 40 employees is already hard at work on Keystone’s first tower, slated for installation at a wind farm in Texas.
More Wind Turbines Coming to the Southeast US, Eventually
This particular tower will apparently be of conventional height, suited to the rich wind resources of Texas and the Midwest. Meanwhile, last summer Denver Post journalist Judith Kohler noted that Keystone already intended to seek opportunities for its tallest towers in the offshore area.
Kohler also picked up the southeast corner of the United States, noting that “the company will use its technology to build towers roughly twice the usual height, about 525 feet, for the southeast, where the strongest winds are found higher up, above the tree cover.”
That’s all well and good for wind turbines, but our friends from global MS are among those who note that policy makers in the Southeast are generally not supportive of the idea of renewable energy absolutely. A regional transmission operator could help get things done by coordinating renewable energy resources, but the Southeast doesn’t have its own ERCOT, PJM, or MISO to lend a hand.
On the bright side, the solar industry has finally begun to break through the bottleneck in Kentucky and several other neighboring states, and energy storage players are beginning to take an interest in abandoned coal sites in the Southeast. for the development of “water batteries”. Both of these trends could support the planting of more wind turbines in the region.
One state to watch in particular is Louisiana, where the solar industry finally started to make serious progress. State policymakers have also begun looking for offshore opportunities for wind development, in the Gulf of Mexico. Among other beneficiaries, the state’s ammonia-based fertilizer industry could suck up the clean kilowatts to produce a ready supply of green hydrogen.
All this to say that the energy transition of tomorrow, which preserves the planet, is just beginning to gain momentum. The technology is in hand. Now policymakers need to do their job and step up a gear.
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Picture: Spiral welding system for wind turbines courtesy of Keystone Tower Systems.
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