Carpenteria, California-based Clipper Windpower might not be a household name, but their depth in the wind industry is unrivaled. Back in the 1980’s, a lot of the folks at Clipper were building a little powerhouse wind company called Zond Corporation – which should get the credit for not only inventing the U.S. wind power industry from whole cloth, but planting the seeds for its growth globally, as well.
As wind power has enjoyed record growth for the past decade, a lot of the attention has been focused on European wind companies like Vestas and Gamesa, and big, vertically-integrated companies like GE. But Clipper may be poised to jump back in the ring, big time.
Clipper already made waves a couple years ago when it launched production of its 2.5MW Liberty turbine – at the time, the largest turbine manufactured in the United States, and the only turbine made by an American, pure-play wind power company.
This week, the company announced that it had sold the world’s largest wind turbine to the Crown Estate, one of England’s largest landholders that also happens to control most of the country’s offshore resources. The 7.5 megawatt (MW) Clipper Britannia Project will be built and tested at the New and Renewable Energy Center, a UK-government sponsored development agency, and deployed off the northeast coast of the United Kingdom, near Blyth.
To give a sense of just how big a 7.5 MW wind turbine is, Clipper figured out that its annual energy generation would be equivalent to a million barrels of oil – and the marketing folks came up with a catchy nickname, the “Britannia 7.5 MBE,” for “million barrel equivalent.”
Not to mention its 100-meter hub height and 150-meter bladespan. The thing is so big, you can’t actually ship any of the large parts over land – it can only be deployed offshore. But that’s the idea.
Offshore wind development is likely to be the next big frontier for windpower, as you can build the wind parks near major load centers; most humans live near coastlines. But the constraints have been both economic and environmental: it’s expensive to build a lot of platforms and power lines out at sea to support wind turbine development, and when you build a lot of platforms out at sea, you invariably disturb some of the critters and creatures that got there first.
At 7.5 MW – twice as big as the competition, which clocks in at an average of around 3.5 MW – the Britannia achieves the economy of scale that offsets the extra cost of offshore development, while simultaneously reducing the number of platforms you need. Which means, paradoxically, that with a larger wind turbine, you leave a smaller environmental footprint (hey Bobby Kennedy Jr., are you listening?) In fact, Clipper calculated that Britannia 7.5 MBE is the precise size needed to achieve both of these objectives.
The UK, for its part, is looking to offshore wind resources to help meet its ambitious national goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. The country’s economic development authorities kicked in a sizable portion of the initial investment for the Britannia, which also got a lot of support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab.
Now let’s hope that Mr. Kennedy gets the message.