How to transport wind farming equipment

Between Australia’s lush south and Germany’s harsh north, the tension is almost palpable. The transport industry is gearing up for a bright future – creating the infrastructure to transport pre-assembled rotor blades, hubs, nacelles, tower sections and foundations. The size and weight of today’s wind farming equipment has increased considerably in the past decade. The turbines can each now generate more than 3 MW, weigh over 100 tonnes and have blades more than 70 metres long. A single turbine can require up to eight loads; one nacelle, one hub, three blades and three tower sections – a major freight task in any language.

As a result, it is safe to say that general equipment availability and transport capacity will soon tighten up. In fact, experts around the world expect that demand for specialised transport equipment is likely to outstrip supply. Therefore, the smart money has already begun to jostle for shipping capacity and equipment has begun. The manufacturing industry is now offering high technology to cart up to 15,000 tonnes, but tends to keep its knowledge close to the vest as the wind farming market is a profitable, yet highly competitive one. Nonetheless, Global Trailer presents a roundup of what appears to be emerging globally in this up-and-coming space.

German company, Goldhofer AG, for instance, is specialising in manufacturing custom designed equipment to haul heavy freight for both on and offshore wind farms. Goldhofer’s latest development is a 62m, triple-telescopic flatbed model with swing axles and a stroke of ± 300 mm. It can transport rotor blades up to a 71m long. According to the Bavarian company, a tolerance range of just a few millimetres will provide increased functionality in the extension and closing of the telescopic tubes used. As a result, the combined axle stroke of 600mm and the possibility to shorten the tubes allows enough leeway on narrow roads, enabling Goldhofer to gear up for a competitive future.

According to figures released by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), 9.3 GW of new wind power capacity was installed in the EU during 2010, reaching a total of 84 GW by the end of last year. While onshore wind power installations (8.4 GW) were down 13.9 per cent compared to 2009 (9.7 GW), offshore installations grew 51 per cent from 582 MW in 2009 to 883 MW last year.

The German government has announced plans to install 10,000 MW of offshore capacity by 2020 to boost the production of sustainable energy and, in turn, specialised transport equipment.

Competing with renowned companies such as Doll, Meusburger or Scheuerle, Goldhofer relies on a drop deck solution featuring either knuckle-type steering or swing axles for the safe transport of the heavy hubs to capture the German market. In order to achieve minimal loading heights for the high hubs, flatbed solutions with a construction height of only 220 mm are also available. For the safe transport of nacelles, the German company designed a semi-trailer available in a 5- to 8-axle configuration, featuring either 205 or 245 tyres.

To transport the huge tower segments, weighing up to 180 tonnes and with a diameter up to 6m, Goldhofer developed a tower adapter with a payload to carry  180 tonne that is used in conjunction with modular vehicles or dollies. The tower segments are either coupled with a free-turning device or clamped directly between two static modules. Due to the free-turning, flexible device, it is possible to master even the tightest of hairpin turns and overcome obstacles up to a height of three metres.

To transport the massive foundations for offshore turbines or steel tower structures for offshore wind parks, Goldhofer developed modular heavy-duty vehicles and self-propelled units with axle loads of up to 50 tonnes to offer a maximum degree of manoeuvrability.

Meanwhile, Goldhofer’s German rival, Scheuerle, is involved in the development of a giant off shore wind farm in the North Sea, called Alpha Ventus. To transport complete rotor stars, Netherlands-based transport specialist, Wagenborg, used Scheuerle’s 20-axle SPMT (Self-Propelled Modular Transporter), which is able to lift an entire 15,000-tonne oil and gas drilling platform.

Scheuerle also developed a patented blade adapter that can be fitted to an existing low loader. It is equipped with a lifting, lowering and turning device, moving one side of the blade upwards via a remote signal, so that the tip of the blade points upwards at an angle of up to 23°. It can then be moved to the left or right meaning that it can “float” over walls, trees, buildings or other obstacles. In addition, the blade can be turned on its own longitudinal axis and is moved out of the wind.

To transport nacelles, Scheuerle relies on the Intercombi, a low loader with a 36-tonne technical axle load. It can be used not only on road as a common semi-trailer, but also as a self-propelled platform vehicle fuelled by a Power Pack Unit (PPU).

In the USA, medium term consequences of the Global Financial Crisis have slowed the entire economy. Nonetheless, the US had 40,181 MW of wind power capacity installed at the end of 2010, with 5,116 MW installed in 2010 and nearly 10 GW in 2009.

But, the industry there is still learning how to move a massive tonnage of steel and composites around the vast country, as the lessons learned in Europe do not always apply in the US. And, as the 3MW barrier is scaled, the build-a-boat-in-the-basement analogy comes to mind, says Alan Redding of ATS Wind Energy Services, a division of Minnesota based Anderson Trucking Service, Inc., a privately owned, specialised heavy-haul transport company in the US.

“No matter how well the boat is designed and constructed, if it does not fit up the stairs it will never see the water,” Alan says. “Basically the weights and dimensions are reaching a point that is putting stress on even the most robust and advanced wind trailer designs. In my opinion there is going to be a real choke point with logistics of wind turbines in the coming years. There is a real need right now to have the turbine OEM engineers, logistics and commercial divisions all understand the realities of logistics cost and delivery fulfilment.   With the new weights and dimension of the 3+ MW turbines, there is not a lot of low hanging fruit delivery routes left.”

Operating one of the largest fleets of customised wind tower trailer equipment in the vast US market, ATS can draw on 125 expandable blade trailers and 91 complete Schnable trailer sets as well as 9, 10, 13, 19-axle combinations for nacelles, drop deck trailers for controllers and double drop deck trailers for hubs and spinners.

But, even with some of the largest trailers in the industry, the new generation of multi-megawatt turbines threatens to exceed the limits of modern equipment. “Tower sections can be the most difficult pieces to move,” Redding says. “Schnabel trailers, which have no decks, can support the towers, using hydraulic arms that grab both ends of a tower section and essentially make the tower part of the trailer. Those arms can lower the section close to the road on an interstate or raise the section as conditions dictate.”

According to Redding, major trailer manufacturing companies need to get involved with the wind farming industry on multi-megawatt component blueprints to face the new transport task. “The larger components will put stress on all aspects of delivery, but in particular drivers, trailers and state approved delivery lanes. These realities will make it very important that the turbine OEMs works far in advance with both carrier and trailer manufacturer to accommodate the next generation of turbines,” he explains. Meanwhile, the US transport industry has begun to develop home made solutions.

Family owned company B&K Trucking, for instance, uses stretch and perimeter trailer setups as well as re-designed Schnable-style trailers to prevent damage to the sensitive components. Going a step further, the Wisconsin based company’s in-house trailer division also manufactures customised dollies to avoid stress on the sides of products during transit.

On a global scale, international corporation, Deugro, created a think tank in Herning, Denmark, to centralise special knowledge and experience and explore the potential of emerging markets such as China.

The People’s Republic is the world's biggest wind-power market, generating 16,000 MW per annum and will defend the leading position until at least 2030,  Girish Tanti of Indian company, Suzlon Energy Ltd., told The Wall Street Journal.

Therefore, Deugro has created a Chinese entity to operate transport equipment tailormade for the wind energy industry. An industry first in China, this equipment is supposed to increase safety and reduce the possibility of damage while offering an economical transport solution. According to Australian magazine, Eco Generation, Deugro also intends to implement the Chinese model in the growing Australian market, where AGL Energy and Meridian Energy are currently building the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere. The $1 billion project is to be located in Macarthur, Victoria, on a 5,500 ha site and has been permitted to generate up to 420 MW.

Not only in vast countries such as China and Australia, though, the transportation of wind farming equipment is becoming a lot more complex and pushing the threshold of what is possible. Facing rapid growth and ongoing demand, only one thing is indisputable around the globe – the boat-in-the-basement scenario is no option.

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