Streamlining Wind
Farm Construction


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Turbine installation processes are becoming more challenging as turbine sizes increase. Photo courtesy of Gamesa Technology Corporation.

Usually, efficiencies are associated with a wind turbine’s ability to convert energy from the wind into electric power. But as the wind power industry matures, construction processes are becoming more efficient as well.

Turbine installation processes are becoming more challenging as turbine sizes increase, and the size of wind farms grows larger.
 
Large, heavy-lift cranes are needed on-site to lift and tilt tower sections and raise nacelles and blades. Delays can add more than $35,000 per day per crane. Storage charges for parts waiting to be delivered longer than expected can also impact costs greatly. Reducing installation times through continuous improvement is increasingly important.

Applying techniques to improve construction efficiency used by other industries isn’t new, but they are now being applied to the maturing wind power industry.

Standardization

It still takes several years of research, planning, permitting, and development before construction begins and a wind farm can start generating power. Each project’s site preparation and installation processes have unique challenges, making it difficult to standardize.

It still takes several years of research, planning, and development before a wind farm can start generating power. Photo courtesy of Gamesa Technology Corporation.

Gamesa Technology Corporation, Langhorne, Pa., which has installed thousands of turbines globally, has learned which processes can be standardized and repeated, and is improving them to reduce delays that have tremendous impacts on site preparation and construction costs.

With this careful planning and good teamwork, the time it takes to build a
wind farm is shrinking, generating higher returns for developers, owners, and operators.

The approach of “taking manufacturing into the field” resulted in a Wind Farm Palletization Project, says Nick Verrekia, director of construction for Gamesa’s onshore wind farms in North America.

This project detailed each of the steps of construction, from installing the base, erecting the tower, installing the nacelle, and assembling blades, to installing control equipment, cabling, and grid connection. Each step has clear written procedures and parts that are wrapped, palletized, and delivered to field workers.

All auxiliary parts for each process step are packaged in easy-to-assemble containers, and checked so nothing is missing. Complete tool cribs are at each assembly location so workers have the correct tools at hand. Parts aren’t lost, and the process is simpler. Verrekia says construction teams enjoy the new process and no longer have to figure out which bolts go with which section while in the field.

Better Delivery

Not only do palletized and boxed-base assembly kits and turbine components arrive sequenced to match the assembly process, but Gamesa also integrated a new method for delivering turbines. In the past, parts, towers, and other major components would be shipped from wherever they were manufactured. Now, parts are staged at locations closer to the site so they are ready when needed.

With the supply less than two hours away, deliveries arrive on time, fewer shipments are lost or stuck in traffic, a smaller lay-down area can be used, and an improved production schedule results.

It also reduces damage. Easier access to inventory provides better sequencing flexibility for construction, and also lowers development costs by reducing interruptions to the delivery cycle.
 
Pre-Assembly and Rapid Assembly

As a designer and manufacturer of wind turbines that also installs, operates, and maintains customers’ wind turbines, Gamesa integrates field knowledge to improve their wind turbine generator designs.

More items have been designed for pre-assembly, such as installing auxiliary wires into nacelles, which used to be done in the field. Not only does this help streamline the installation process, providing greater turbine availability, but it has also improved the quality of work, Verrekia notes.

Gamesa’s techniques ensure turbines are erected, mechanically complete, and ready for commissioning quickly, with an out-of-box availability exceeding contractual obligations. Harnessing savings in time and money is critical for wind farm development in this new economy. 

Debbie Sniderman is CEO of VI Ventures LLC, a technical consulting company.
 

Applying techniques to improve construction efficiency used by other industries isn’t new, but they are now being applied to the maturing wind power industry.

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August 2011

by Debbie Sniderman, ASME.org