Vestas rewrites the rules for onshore technology

The headline figures -- nameplate capacity of 5.6MW and rotor diameter of up to 162 metres -- are striking enough, but the key features of Vestas' new EnVentus onshore platform are its medium-speed geared drivetrain and the company's commitment to modular turbine architecture.

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The move to medium speed is a particularly bold one in a global market dominated by high-speed geared and direct-drive solutions.

The Danish manufacturer can point to the experience it has gained of the technology with the development of the V164 offshore turbine through the MHI Vestas joint venture, but this still marks a substantial step in design specification for onshore wind.

The modular construction approach is less of a surprise.

All the leading turbine OEMs are working hard to simplify and streamline their manufacturing processes, driven by increasingly cost-conscious and fiercely competitive markets.

Vestas, however, appears to be further ahead in this respect than its rivals, applying lessons learned from heavy-truck production to the wind sector.

The launch of the EnVentus platform spells the end for GE Renewable Energy’s briefly held lead in power rating and rotor diameter.

The 5.3MW variant of its new Cypress platform with a 158-metre rotor was unveiled less than three months before Vestas dropped its bombshell.

GE may have been outgunned, but perhaps it holds a trump card in its use of a two-piece blade. There is a growing industry consensus that 80 metres is probably the limit for a single-piece blade in terms of road transport logistics, and at 79.4 metres Vestas is right up against it.

We will have to wait until the second half of this year before the first 5.6MW EnVentus prototype, with a 150-metre rotor, is installed, and until mid-2020 before the first V162 model starts field testing.

But their progress and performance will be closely monitored by the competition. Will the new platform herald a widespread shift to medium-speed geared drivetrains? Time will tell.

Convincing economics

Our annual energy-costs comparison feature highlights the rapidly growing competitiveness of wind power, onshore and offshore, particularly against coal and nuclear.

Only gas — in a limited number of markets (mainly the US) — now makes economic sense against wind power.

Wind’s main rival is now solar PV, which has seen costs fall even faster than wind’s over recent years. Solar PV also looks better suited than wind to matching with storage.

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