The size demands an entirely new offshore wind design

A majority of the wind farms in the United States use 2.5 megawatt wind turbines, and recent technology has introduced even larger turbines at 5 megawatts. Europe, on the other hand, is racing ahead of the game with the largest wind turbine yet - 10 megawatts. And it may be changing the way wind turbines are designed altogether.  

Europe has seen a lot of advantages to building larger wind turbines, such as avoiding environmental issues by using larger turbines in deeper waters. There is less of a risk of encountering environmental problems the further offshore the turbines are located. Europe seems to build larger turbines as the water grows deeper, as well. 

Another advantage to building larger turbines is the cost. The cost per megawatt decreases as the the size of the wind turbine increases, which is a helpful advantage when building a wind turbine that is equivalent to a 30 story building in size. 

The 533 foot tall wind turbine was designed by Sway, a Norwegian turbine developer, and will have 476 foot long blades. Sway has been working on the design since 2004, but the company is not working on Europe's largest turbine alone. It is partnering with Norwegian state utility Enova and UK-based Clipper Marine to bring the 10 megawatt monster turbine to life.

The giant turbine certainly dwarfs the 2.5 megawatt and the newer 5 megawatt turbines being used now. In fact, it is so large that it requires a whole new offshore wind design

The new design does not attach the wind turbine to the sea floor like smaller models. This 10 megawatt turbine, while giant in size, will be lightweight enough to "sway" around a fixed base and float in the ocean. It also has the ability to swivel on this base to produce energy when the direction of the wind changes. 

"This is pioneering stuff," said Feargal Brennan, head of offshore, process and energy engineering at Cranfield University. "I believe 10MW turbines are right on the limit of our knowledge; they may even prove to be over the limit. We may find that they work for several years and then start to develop problems. Will 10MW turbines still be working after 10, 15, 20 years of operation?"

In an attempt to answer that question, developers will use a smaller turbine to test the fixed base design. This "smaller" turbine will be 5 megawatts, which is still large in terms of what is being used today. If the test proves that this new system will work for the larger 10 megawatt wind turbine, this could be a new beginning for offshore wind energy. These systems would be far enough off shore to where they would not be noticed from land, send electricity to land through cable lines at the sea floor, just like internet cables. 

While Sway, Clipper Marine and Enova are on their way with this development, they're not the only ones. According to other reports, British company Wind Power Limited has recently exposed the details its new 10 megawatt offshore wind generator, called Aerogenerator X. This unit is expected to reach completion by 2013 or 2014, and will generate enough electricity for 5,000 - 10,000 homes. 

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