Installation of Wind Turbines: Setting Up A Wind Farm
|Topic: New wind farm projects||Read Time: 8 mins|
| Landowner type:
Independent landowners | Institutional landowners
|Energy: Onshore wind|
Have you been trying to figure out how the installation of wind turbines works? Perhaps you’re a landowner wondering how long everything will take. Whatever you’re on the hunt for, we’ll endeavour to answer your burning questions about the installation of wind turbines.
If you’re a landowner, the installation of wind turbines might be something that you’re interested in. And it honestly doesn’t matter whether that’s because you’ve signed an option agreement for a project or are considering one. Understanding the process can demystify the entire process of getting wind projects on your land.
So, if you’re wondering what turbines are made of, how they’re constructed, or anything in between – you’re in the right place. Not only will we run you through the step-by-step construction process in layman’s terms, but we’ll also explain how this may impact your land. With this knowledge in hand, you’ll be able to adequately prepare for the process without a care in the world.
What Are Wind Turbines Made Of?
If you’re getting wind turbines on your land, you might be wondering what they’re actually made of. Well, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, wind turbines are typically made of steel and fibreglass. But those moving parts are also constructed from resin or plastic, iron or cast iron, copper, and aluminium.
The average turbine has several different components, but the main ones you’ll want to know about are:
Each of these components has a different function, but they all work in harmony to keep those blades turning. The nacelle generally keeps the operational parts of the turbine protected. The blades, on the other hand, create the aerodynamic force that’s harnessed into kinetic energy. And the tower? Along with the foundation of concrete and steel, it keeps the structure sturdy enough to support the weighty blades.
Installation of Wind Turbines: How Are They Built?
If we’re starting from the very beginning of the process, the installation of wind turbines starts with a detailed feasibility study. This is where a developer will scope your land for suitability, soil structure, wind speeds, and everything in between. Once they’ve offered you an option agreement to hold the land and secured appropriate financing, the building process begins. If we’re simplifying the entire process, we can split it into 5 easy-to-follow steps.
- Laying the foundations
- Constructing the tower
- Adding the nacelles
- Fixing the blades
- Testing and commissioning the turbines
And before any of this happens, your developer will need to secure planning permission and secure any commodities. This includes cables, concrete, hard stands for the turbines, tower sections, and nacelles. Oh, and the blades, of course. This process can take a considerable amount of time (before construction begins), which is worth bearing in mind.
Now that you’ve got the basic lay of the land, let’s delve into these processes in slightly more detail (and how they might affect you!).
1: Laying the foundations
Before any foundations are laid, you’ll see developers landscaping the area, digging roads, and sorting appropriate tracks for vehicles. These allow construction teams (and the developer) to easily access the site and deliver necessary materials.
Laying the foundations for a wind power project involves laying down an impressive amount of concrete. This can be as much as 1000 tons but is typically between 600 and 1000 tons. Because it’s unlikely that you’ll have stockpiles of concrete and steel lying around, the construction team will move this onsite with large trucks.
Although the laying of access roads might impact your day-to-day activities, they’re generally designed to minimise land impact. If you’re concerned about this part of the process, it’s best to check in with your developer. They should be able to give you timescales for this process being completed for peace of mind. Although the preparation phase can be lengthy, the construction process itself is relatively speedy.
2: Constructing the tower
Average dimensions for a 3.5MW turbine
Weight: 167 tons
Height: 86/116/135 m
The first major piece of the tower that your developer and construction team will build is the tower. Now, it’s no secret that a commercial wind turbine is TALL (approximately 98 metres, to be precise). And because of this height, you can’t construct the entire tower in one go. Instead, the developer and construction team will build it in parts with large cranes that pull materials up to the required heights.
From here, the team will construct separate parts to make room for the nacelle installation. It’s worth mentioning that the developer may need to delay this process due to poor weather conditions, or the turbine is particularly large. But it usually takes just a few days for the towers, nacelle, and blades to go in.
3: Adding the nacelles
Average dimensions for a 3.5MW turbine
Weight: 163 tons
Length: 18 metres
Width: 4 metres
Height: 7 metres
When the towers are good and sturdy, the nacelle comes in. This Is the cover housing that hides all the generational components of the turbine, including the generator and gearbox. But you’ll also find the drive train, brake, and low/high-speed shafts tucked inside the nacelle. If we’re looking at it figuratively, it’s a protective shell that protects the most important functional parts of the turbine.
4: Fixing the blades
Average dimensions for a 3.5MW turbine
Weight: 12 tons
Length: 55 metres
The final stage of the actual building process involves fixing the blades to the nacelle and rotor. Smaller-scale turbines are usually manufactured with the blades pre-attached (although this isn’t always the case). When it comes to larger-scale turbines, all parts are delivered separately, and the blades require heavy cranes to fit.
If you’re dealing with aluminium blades, teams will construct these by bolting aluminium sheets together. If your blades are made from fibreglass, the construction team will cover the surfaces of the blade moulds with a composite of fibreglass and resin. This needs to harden for several hours before it can be attached to the turbine.
In either instance, construction teams will securely bolt and screw the blades onto the nacelle before placing them on the tower.
5: Testing and commissioning the turbines
Before we round off our discussion about the installation of wind turbines, we need to discuss all-important quality checks. Although the construction team has probably successfully installed the turbines, the crew needs to test and commission the system. Not only will the team check that all components are working, but they’ll make sure the turbine is producing electrical power. This part of the process is also when the crew will perform safety checks and set up maintenance plans with the project developer.
This step is what makes sure that the ongoing management of a wind farm takes place regularly (and it ensures that your developer is abiding by industry standards!). An average maintenance schedule will include everything from periodic inspections and lubrication to cleaning the turbines.
There’s usually a focus on cleaning the rotor and blades. But there may even be software updates that need to happen to keep the technology up to date. These processes won’t necessarily impact you as a landowner. But it’s worth noting that there will be maintenance workers regularly visiting the site to keep it in tip-top condition.
How Does It Work and How Is the Energy Produced?
Wind turbines work a bit like an enormous fan, with the turbine blades spinning to produce electricity. This movement (powered by wind) causes the rotor to spin a generator. This kinetic energy is what creates the electricity that is then transferred to the Grid and sold. The amount of electricity produced largely depends on how much wind is used to turn the blades. The faster the wind speeds, the faster the turbine blades can spin and create more kinetic energy.
How Long Does the Process Take?
Now, it’s worth mentioning that the installation of wind turbines depends on their size and structure. Non-commercial or generally smaller projects will naturally have smaller parts, and these will be less complex to construct. Because this process requires fewer parts and less construction equipment, it’s generally shorter.
But from our research, getting appropriate planning, laying foundations, and constructing the turbines takes around 3 years and 8 months (give or take). This figure runs from the date a developer submitted a planning application to the date the project is operational. So, it’s almost 4 years!
And the thing that tends to hold up the process the most is obtaining planning permission. This can set a project’s construction date back by months to years depending on the Local Authority.
What Is the Impact on Landowners?
You might think that the installation of wind turbines would have a major impact on the surrounding land. But we’ve found that the construction of access roads tends to be the most intrusive part of the process. The coming and going of vehicles, along with the presence of construction cranes, might feel bothersome. But as the foundation laying and turbine parts deliveries are a very minor part of the construction process? Well, the overall impact on landowners ends up being minimal.
As you can see, the installation of wind turbines is surprisingly easy-going from a landowner’s perspective. Although the building of access roads can be frustrating, the construction process is incredibly quick once the turbines arrive. The rest of the process is more or less a planning permission and foundation-laying waiting game.
If you have any further questions about the installation of wind turbines, feel free to get in touch with the team. Not only can we answer those burning questions, but we’ll even set you up for success over your long lease period. From helping you to negotiate the best deal for your new wind farm project to the ongoing monitoring of your project, we’ll make sure you’re maximising the income that you receive for leasing your land.
Clients often ask us about how much it costs to install a wind turbine and what goes into planning permission. If you’re curious, we’ve rounded up a few frequently asked questions that might help you in the early stages of project planning.
How much does installing an average wind turbine cost?
The average commercial wind turbine can cost between £1 and 1.5 million per megawatt installed.
Do I need council approval for a wind turbine?
Getting planning permission is key for any wind turbine project, but it can be rather tricky to get. The government has currently halted planning permission applications in England, but you can still apply in other parts of the country. But whether the local authority will approve your application is another thing entirely!
How do you set up a wind farm?
Setting up a new wind farm can be a complicated process, But if you’re planning to self-develop as a landowner, you’ll want to make sure you have adequate funding. And if you’re working with a developer, carefully consider your payment arrangements and lease terms before agreeing to a project. Oh, and make sure you know plenty about the developer you’re working with.