Transportation Logistics Trouble Wind Energy Industry

wind energy manufacturingThere are now more than 45,000 wind turbines in operation in the U.S., and the installed capacity continues to grow quickly. The wind energy industry is, however, experiencing logistical issues that impact the bottom line and wind energy deployment.

Although policy uncertainty continues to plague the renewable energy industry, overcoming transportation issues are a tangible way to help bolster wind energy growth by lowering costs and reducing delays.

Size of wind energy components

Wind turbine components are constantly increasing in size – more than quadrupling over the last 30 years. The modern wind turbine now produces 15 times more energy than typical turbines from 1990. The blade diameter of current models can be greater than the length of a football field. Offshore wind turbines tend to be larger than onshore turbines, with 5 megawatts of nameplate capacity.

In the case of wind turbines, bigger is better from a financial, energy production and sustainability standpoint. A recent study found that the energy to produce, transport, maintain and dispose of larger turbines isn’t that much more than a smaller turbine, but the energy production is much greater. The trend towards larger components isn’t likely to change, so the challenge is catering to it.

Shortage of skilled drivers

Massive turbine blades, nacelles and generators need to be transported from ports or manufacturing facilities to the wind farm construction site. With cargo running in the millions, extensive experience in hauling large loads is vital. The shortage of qualified drivers is not isolated to the wind energy industry, but it’s a shortage that impacts the transportation industry and therefore many other industries.

“As the current crop of drivers grows older, there are fewer people choosing the profession,” states a recent article in North American WindpowerThe average age of heavy cargo drivers in 2004 was 50, according to Professional Logistics Group. With long hours and extensive time away from home, trucking companies are having trouble attracting qualified drivers to fill this void.

Domestic wind component production

Manufacturing for the wind energy industry has been shifting to the U.S., in part due to transportation challenges of increased component size. To improve competitiveness, it is ideal for production to be as close as possible to the point of delivery. In 2011, 67 percent of wind energy components for projects were sourced domestically, from over 550 facilities.

Permitting challenges

Overweight, oversized loads create unique logical issues, which may vary by state. An example of a little difference may be that a different color of flag may be required from one state to the next. Permitting requirements are not national, and efficient transportation is hindered by varying permitting rules for these large loads, boosting both the time and the cost of transportation. Streamlining the permitting process for interstate travel would help keep costs down and reduce delays, so it is being encouraged by the American Wind Energy Association.

Image Credit: Flickr/Tu 

Sarah Lozanova is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Green Builder, Home Power, and Urban Farm. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.

Sarah Lozanova is a green copywriter and communications professional specializing in renewable energy and clean technology. She is a consultant for Sustainable Solutions Group and a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Home Power, Earth911, and Green Builder. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine.

44 responses

      1. Herp derp. My self-installed solar PV system generates power at a rate of 6 cents per KWH . . . for the next 25 years. I use it to power my entire house and my electric car. I have not not paid for gasoline OR electricity for over a year now. Tell me about unaffordable and unworkable again.

        There are “Can do” people like me and “Can’t do” losers like you. Perhaps you can learn some engineering and make yourself useful. For a change.

        1. Dude, stay on subject, we are talking about wind energy, not solar.

          Nice try though. Like Dahun stated, At least liberals are consistent (ly wrong)

    1. You know . . . that is not a bad idea. It severely limits you to transporting on good weather days but that is a great effective way to move very large objects.

    1. Mike, you need to educate yourself. Clean wind power benefits the entire human race by replacing dirty and dangerous coal powered electricity. Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. Ever see a mountain top removed to strip mine coal?

      1. It may benefit humans, but It certainly doesn’t benefit the hundreds of eagles killed each year because of the turbines. Apparently the Greenies think that killing the American eagle in such high quantities is OK, as long as we don’t use oil. They kill so many that the federal government gives them a waiver on having to pay fines, but the fines for the oil industry aren’t waived, are they? Or if they were, they would complain that the oil industry gets so many breaks. Oh, that’s right, they already complain about the oil industry.

        Greenies complain that drilling for oil will endanger the white owl or some other wild life, but kill the American eagle with wind turbines in such high numbers, it’s ridiculous. The American Eagle will be back on the endangered list shortly because of this, but you don’t hear this from the liberal biased media because it doesn’t fit their agenda.

        That makes them hypocrites. Also it’s OK for birds flying over solar farms to die in large numbers so much so that they have just about made a couple species extinct, but this is OK too as long as the media doesn’t report it, it’s not happening, right?

        All this for Green energy that really isn’t green anymore, it’s red with all that blood and death.

        Yup, can you say hypocrites!?

        1. Oh Pffft. The number of birds killed by turbines is trivial compared to cats. Or buildings. Or power lines. Etc. That is such a misplaced whine.

        2. Trivial?, one search is all it takes to prove your statement wrong. C&P
          Last year, reports began to surface of the huge impact wind farms have on bird populations. One report
          said that 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats were being killed each year by
          wind turbines, more than 30 percent higher than federal government
          estimates. Many of these birds were protected by federal laws, including
          the Migratory Bird Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

          This is also happening all over the world and there is a big outcry over the allowing of wind farms to kill endangered species.

          Next time educate yourself on a subject before commenting.

      2. Congratulations, Bill. In only four sentences you parroted the top four talking points of the American Wind Energy Association. I’ve never seen so much disinformation in such a compact form.

    2. Pfffft. Wind is free and big turbines are quite cost effective. Ugly? I think people that say they are ugly should have a coal mine or a coal plant build next to their homes . . . then they can tell me how wind turbines are ugly. Mike, you are old and I’m glad your old ways are dying out.

      1. I’ll take a wind turbine over a mine or coal plant any day. I just need to know what to do with all the dead birds that I’ll have in my yard. Now if it were turkeys being killed by the wind turbines,that would be a different story, they taste good and there is no shortage of them.

  1. Well another reason there are issues getting them hauled is, The wind people have lowered the rates so bad on these units, there is no money to be made hauling them for all the time and expenses you have tied up in moving these units.
    Trust me be there done that.
    You have all these new heavy haul people wanting to do it, but they make the rate so low they fail.
    Then compaines like G.E. tell you that the other guy did it for this then you can too.
    Uh no, I just won’t haul your cheap paying freight

    1. You can’t pay for a four hundred thousand dollar truck on rates that will only get you ten dollars a mile -unless you tell them you can. The basic rule of success is with a truck still the same as it always was. Those who would ignor that simple fact, doom themselves to failure.

  2. Wind turbines are ugly and a blight on our landscape. They create expensive, intermittent electricity. The kill lots of birds. Typical solution from people who do not think end- to -end.

    1. I personally like the way wind turbines look–sleek, graceful, and clean, and much more attractive than most other kinds of power plants.

      Wind is among the cheapest ways to produce electricity, with offers as low as 2 to 4 cents per kilowatt-hour in the best wind sites. This is much cheaper than a new gas, coal or nuclear plant.

      Almost everything in the world kills more birds than wind turbines, including houses, cell towers, skyscrapers, transmission lines, cars, and cats. In fact, wind turbines save lots of birds from dirty coal plants that kill many more birds than wind power.

      While one wind turbine may be “intermittent”, building many wind turbines, especially if they are spread over a large geographic area, improves reliability greatly. Combining wind with other sources of energy plus energy storage can–and currently does–produce reliable electricity.

      1. So killing 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats each year by wind turbines is acceptable? Because far more are killed by houses, cell towers, skyscrapers, etc…? Excuse me while I call Bull on that. Do a search before commenting. You couldn’t be further from the truth, except wind turbines do look better than other power plants and I am not against them, I just think that they should fix this problem instead of giving out 30 year waivers that allow the industry to continue the mass execution of birds birds and their extinction, all under the guise of green energy.

        That is no longer green with all that death, it’s red with blood, so red, it’s not green anymore.

        Remember what the definition of green is. The birds certainly are not as a renewable resource as you may think. That can’t survive that bad of a slaughter.

        Try educating yourself before commenting.

    2. Paddy, your post is really stupid. I guess you’d rather breathe in mercury, lead, arsenic, and other toxins from coal plants. And those coal plants & mining kill FAR more birds. You don’t know the real numbers, you are just spewing the anecdotal garbage.

      1. 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats is not enough for you? BY the way, these are real numbers from last year. That’s how many are killed by wind turbines last year. The coal plants don’t kill any where’s near that many and they aren’t given 30 year waivers that allow them to kill more birds.

        Try reading before commenting. Your ignorance shines brightly.

      2. Wind energy has dual physical flaws: both unpredictable and intermittent. These combine to make wind energy very low quality irrespective of it being “free.” When you continue to infer that coal and wind are interchangeable, that essentially useless wind generation can replace or even displace coal, you perpetuate a myth and a fraud on American people. Lots of generation sources can replace coal, but wind is not one of them. Start looking at the numbers and wind “farms” won’t be quite so pretty to you any more.

  3. Wind turbines create power at several times the cost of easily available conventional power. They deliver less than 25% of the time. They require 100% backup with inefficient conventional power which means they save very little fossil fuel, don’t clean the air measurably and cost taxpayers billions while requiring huge Grants, subsidies and tax credits while ballooning the cost to ratepayers.
    Natural gas cleans the air dramatically, requires no grants, subsidies or tax credits. It is affordable and saves fossil fuel by eliminating the idling, inefficient power plants that are needed for wind turbines. NG is virtually pollution free and cuts carbon emissions by 55% and has the ability to cut carbon dioxide by amounts not possible with turbines at little or no added costs to ratepayers or taxpayers.

    1. Wind power contracts in 2012 averaged 4 cents per kilowatt-hour in the US; much less than the full cost of a new gas, coal or nuclear plant which can range from 6 to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour.

      The subsidy for wind in the United States is the federal wind production tax credit at 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, but it is only paid for the first 10 years of operation. Since wind turbines normally operate for about 20 years, this averages to a little over 1 cent per kilowatt-hour over the life of the wind turbine. Utility customers directly benefit from the tax credit in the form of lower cost of electricity.

      And actually, the current glut of cheap natural gas was only made possible by years of government grants for research and development of fracking, because no one in the energy industry would touch what they considered to be an unworkable and rather risky idea. Of course, fracking for natural gas is a risky idea, but not for the reasons the oil and gas industry thought.

      Commercial wind power capacity utilization ranges between 20% and 40%, but this is commonly confused with “how much of the time” they operate. Capacity utilization is the average rate of energy production compared to the full rated power of the turbine. Wind turbines produce a lot of the time, but in varying amounts and usually not at full rated capacity.

      In fact, virtually no power plant operates at full capacity all of the time. The capacity utilization of all power plants in the United States combined is only about 40%. In other words, wind power is not much different from average of the overall power plant fleet.

      Natural gas is much cleaner than coal–there is no doubt about that. However, natural gas is much more polluting than wind. That is just common sense. Similarly, natural gas plants emit less carbon dioxide than coal plants; but wind power results in almost no carbon dioxide emissions. Also, natural gas is primarily composed of methane, which is 34 to 86 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So, if even a very small fraction of the natural gas leaks into the atmosphere this can easily offset the relative climate benefit compared to coal. Natural gas is no solution; it is a significant part of the climate problem. Think about it….

      1. 1. Show me one wind contract that was close to 4 cents a kwh without adding fictitious costs for carbon. That is baloney.
        2. A 20 year life is another downside.
        3. Taxpayers subsidize 25% of construction costs.
        4. Rate payers pay for 100% of the back-up power plants and 100% of the power to idle them 75% of the time and 100% of the cost of running plants at least 15% less efficient than the quick reacting plants needed for wind.
        5. Wind is idle and not available 75% of the time.
        6. The fairy tale that fracking was developed by government is a lie, pure and simple.
        7. The combination of turbines and the necessary 100% back-up + the idling time + the inefficiency of the required fast-reacting back-up uses more fossil fuel than a modern NG power plant operating 100% of the time.
        8. Large methane leaks into the atmosphere is another false narrative that has been disproven many times, but dishonest people keep repeating it knowing it is untrue.
        9, Since the global warming theory has been definitively disproven using the predictions and models put forth by the UN IPCC, there is no climate ‘problem’ except the costly continuation of unworkable and unaffordable wind and solar.

    2. “Wind turbines create power at several times the cost of easily available conventional power”

      That is blatantly false. You have no idea what you are talking about.

  4. What about the required maintenance. These things are spread all over. As they age the maintenance requirements are going to increase substantially. A small army of highly trained and somewhat fearless individuals will be required to keep them working properly. As with all things where skill and danger are combined these intrepid techs will command a premium price per hour.

    1. Higher labor costs than a nuclear power plant per kwh produced. Life, less than 20 years versus conventional power plant 50 years minimum. Wind turbines hundreds of thousands of birds and bats killed each year including endangered hawks, eagles, condors, etc.. They have no value as power or in cleaning the air.

      1. The US Energy Information Administration gives fixed operating costs for wind at $13 per megawatt-hour, compared to $11.8 per megawatt-hour for advanced nuclear; so these are rather close. However, variable operating costs (such as fuel) for nuclear are another $11.8 per megawatt hour, while wind has no variable costs. So, wind is a better choice if your concern is focused only on operating expenses.

        Wind does have an issue with endangered bird species, but–despite a lot of comments on the internet– wind power has one of the lowest rates of bird kill for a source of electricity per unit of energy produced. Fossil fuel power plants are believed to kill about 9 million birds in the US every year (one estimate is as high as 14.5 million), which is many times higher than for wind.

        Of course, wind has huge benefits for clean air; since it does not burn any fuel.

  5. These giant ‘fans’ are so impractical. They are expensive to build, install and maintain. They create a hazard for wildlife and become flying shrapnel when they fail. Horizontal vortex is the future of wind collection. Stop building a GRID. We know how to gather energy at the point of use.

        1. Also Sec9, what do you do for power when there is no wind? Wind is not dependable and therefore needs a backup. Battery technology is very expensive and hydrogen from water is not a feasible alternative at this time.

  6. Renew the production tax credit. And create more manufacturing facilities close to where the installs are. We need to keep installing wind turbines like crazy. The wind is free and big wind turbines are very cost-effective. And if people move to plug-in cars (pure EVs or plug-in hybrids), we can massively reduce oil imports and greenhouse gas emissions.

  7. This is a very safe and useful technology; the solution is to give consideration to noise, infrasound, and flicker in placement of the turbines and design accordingly. Wind turbines will prove increasingly important and should be as well-designed as possible. I believe wind turbines to be the solution to our energy problems and we won’t have to check the fresh list of UK direct lenders here in order to pay on utility bills.

  8. Rail wasn’t mention. Rail can often more economically transport wings than a long distance truck that has to get state oversize permits, escort services, and is limited to daylight movements.

  9. Is there a way to push for improvement in working conditions and pay for heavy cargo drivers? Is this an opportunity to make things that are good for the environment good for labor?

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