Turbines of the Year 2020: Winners against all odds

The wind-energy industry’s ingenuity and resilience shone through the many challenges of 2020, with new approaches to old ideas

(pic: Amtitus/Getty Images)
(pic: Amtitus/Getty Images)

In this most extraordinary of years, the wind-energy sector gave its own display of strength, resilience and forward-looking thinking by continuing to operate and innovate in equal measure. As the sector matures, efforts to build on tried-and-tested concepts, introduce gradual improvements and incessantly strive to develop efficient solutions have dominated.

Among the products selected for 2020, a new out-of-the-box crane design that enables older vessels to continue to be used to install next-generation offshore turbines perhaps best exemplifies the ingenuity and problem-solving mindset that has sustained the sector through these difficult times.

Classes and criteria   

The most significant change in the judging categories for this year’s selection is in the capacity-rating boundary between smaller  and larger onshore turbines. Moving it up for the second year in a row after several years of no change reflects how fast the trend towards higher-rated machines is accelerating.
Turbines had to have entered production in 2020 or be scheduled to do so very early in 2021 to be included — an extension granted due to the year’s special circumstances. If not in production, an operating prototype must be in place, with the manufacturer accepting firm orders.

One major exception was made for the 1:10 scale prototype winner of the offshore turbine category, on the grounds that it is fully tested and validated, on the verge of starting construction of a full-scale prototype, and represents a truly inspiring and forward-looking product.

As always, technological innovation and performance were some of the key qualities we looked at. Two gearboxes narrowly battled for first place, having both crossed a seminal torque density milestone.
But other elements such as track record, order backlog, progress made, quality of design and manufacture were also taken into account. We also looked at ease and cost-efficiency of transport and installation, and efficiency and reliability in operation.

Challenges and all, 2020 was a remarkable year during which wind energy proved its worth on many fronts, including thanks to its now uncontested ability to compete with more traditional energy sources. The products on display here are further proof that the industry is growing at pace and improving fast.


The continuing trend for onshore turbines to grow in size and capacity is reflected in the extended threshold for this category, but the top two models somewhat broke the mould


GOLD Goldwind GW 82-1.1MW


Western and Chinese OEMs concentrate much of their development work on this class, with medium-speed drivetrains an area to watch


GOLD Enercon E-160 EP5


Strong showing from Chinese manufacturers as established players focus on 10MW+


GOLD Scaled 1:10 aerodyn-engineering Nezzy2


Understanding of full systems and modularity helps push gearbox design


GOLD ZF Shift 7k modular gearbox


Producing longer, lighter units using existing production facilities is a key consideration


GOLD 111-metre Aerovide ae 14.0-111.0 blade for 11-15MW turbine


Crane solution means older vessels can be adapted to install next-generation offshore giants


GOLD Tetrahedron ultra-high wind turbine lifting crane


BDFIG – brushless doubly fed induction generator

C&GFRE – carbon & glass-fibre reinforced epoxy

CSH – concrete-steel hybrid

DD – direct drive

DFIG – doubly fed induction generator

EESG – electrically excited synchronous generator

G&CFRE – glass & carbon-fibre reinforced epoxy

GFRE – glass-fibre reinforced epoxy

HH – hub height

HSG – high-speed geared

IG - induction generator

LDST – Large-diameter steel tower

MSG – medium-speed geared

PMG – (synchronous) permanent magnet generator

PCVS – pitch-controlled variable-speed

TS – tubular steel

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