The Future Of Wind Energy

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By Tsvetana Paraskova

Proponents of renewable energy have faced criticism for years that while wind and solar power generate clean energy, the supply chain behind the technologies used in wind tower turbines and solar panels is far from environmentally friendly and sustainable. Most wind towers on which blades are installed are made of steel – one of the most carbon-intensive industries in the world and one that has not yet found a viable large-scale solution to cut emissions. The higher the tower, the more wind it can potentially capture, but it would also cost more because of the production and transportation costs of steel towers to power generation sites.

A new concept design and material for wind towers could hold the key to carbon-neutral and a more cost-efficient wind power generation – wooden tower structures made of renewable engineered wood products, according to Swedish engineering and industrial design company Modvion.

The firm has developed and patented a modular laminated wood concept that is as strong as steel and solves the challenge of transporting a very high steel-made tower, where costs increase with the height of the tower.

Modvion, whose work is financed by the Swedish Energy Agency, among others, has recently installed its first wooden wind tower for research purposes just outside Gothenburg in Sweden. The company expects to build the first commercial wooden towers in 2022. The first wooden wind tower is just 30 meters (98 feet) high, but Modvion has signed preliminary deals with two Swedish companies to build wind towers of more than 110 meters (361 ft).

“This is a major breakthrough that paves the way for the next generation of wind turbines. Laminated wood is stronger than steel at the same weight, and by building in modules, the wind turbines can be taller. By building in wood, we also reduce carbon dioxide emissions in manufacturing and instead store carbon dioxide in the design,” Modvion’s chief executive Otto Lundman said in a statement.

Taller and modular wind towers made of wooden structures could solve the problems with high costs of steel-made towers and the challenge of transporting such towers on public roads in the U.S. and Europe. Wind towers of over 100 meters (328 ft) need base diameters of more than

4.3 meters (14.1 ft), the limit for transport width in most parts of the U.S. and the EU, Modvion says.

According to the company and its partners in the project, laminated wooden wind towers could address two of the biggest challenges in the renewable energy industry – costs and the carbon footprint of the supply chain.

“With wind towers in wood, we get even more climate-smarter renewable electricity to face the climate crisis,” says Ola Carlson, director of the Swedish Wind Power Technology Centre at Chalmers, the client of Modvion’s first wooden tower.

By the way, Sweden is the EU leader in terms of energy use from renewable energy sources. Currently, Sweden generates more than 54 percent of its electricity from renewable sources and targets 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2040.

If the wooden wind tower pilot project is successful, sustainably manufactured modular towers that can be assembled on-site could address three major challenges for the current dominant tubular steel towers in the wind power industry – costs, carbon footprint, and height.

According to a 2019 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), wind resource quality improves significantly with height above ground across the United States.

“Reducing the cost of realizing taller towers is critical to capturing the value of higher wind speeds at higher above-ground levels as well as for increasing the viability of wind power in all regions of the country,” the report says.

Despite the current preference for tubular steel towers, manufacturers continue to explore alternative technologies, NREL, a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, said.

“The pursuit of alternative tower concepts is justified on various grounds and can result from a desire to hedge against steel-price volatility or from perceived potential for cost reduction,” according to the report.

The renewable laminated wood tower may help with cost reduction, carbon emissions reduction, and increasing tower height and power generation efficiency, the Swedish company says. We’ll have to wait and see if the industry picks up the pilot project to make it mainstream, especially considering the continuous pledges for carbon neutrality from every energy firm, including those in the wind power supply chain such as the biggest wind turbine makers Vestas and Siemens Gamesa.

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