Long Road to Wind Power

April 22nd, 2013 - The creation of a Canadian wind farm illustrates the difficulties of shipping huge wind turbines.

At the beginning of last year, SDV faced a particular challenge: how to transport the main components of 75 wind turbines from their German manufacturer to a remote and mountainous region in the Canadian province of Quebec.

It took 15 barges and four ships to transport the machinery, including 75 nacelles weighing 72 tons each, from Husum in Germany to the Canadian port of Bécancour. Then, 600 special trucks shipped the pieces to the site at a rate of one wind turbine per day over the period between May and the end of October.

“We had to deliver the components on a just-in-time schedule,” says Patrick Lafrance, project manager for SDV in Montreal, Quebec. “The operation required precise planning and high security for these over-sized loads.”

The logistics of shipping wind turbines around the world offers a glimpse into the workings of the wind industry, one of the fastest-growing sources of energy around the world thanks to its potential for abundant and clean electricity.

Until now, Canada has been slow to adopt wind energy compared to other countries like China, the U.S. and Germany, partly thanks to the low cost of conventional electricity supplies there such as hydroelectricity, nuclear power and fossil fuels.

Canada ranks just ninth in the world for wind energy installations generating 2.2 percent of installed wind capacity, according to the latest figures from the Global Wind Energy Council, an international trade association based in Brussels Belgium.

But that figure could soon rise as the Canadian government awards new concessions in regions including Quebec and Ontario. The Saint-Robert-Bellarmin Wind Farm, for example, halfway between the towns of Lac-Mégantic and Saint-Georges-de-Beauce in the province of Quebec, was the first project in Canada for French electricity company EDF Group.

Germany’s REpower supplied the turbines for the project while locally-manufactured components such as the towers and blades came from Matane and Gaspé respectively.

SDV was charged with transporting all the parts to the site. First, principal pieces such as the rotor hub and the nacelle, that houses all the generating components, were shipped by barge from the manufacturing site to the German ports of Brunsbuttel and Brake. Then SDV shipped the components across the Atlantic to the Canadian port of Bécancour. From there, they were transported by police-escorted truck to the site.

It could take up to two hours to transport the components from the site entrance to the place where the wind turbine was to be installed at the top of the mountain, says Lafrance. “The roads were steep and the conditions were difficult,” he says.

SDV also had to deliver the other parts such as the blades and tower sections on a tight schedule so that EDF could offload and erect one wind turbine each day. The tower base had to be delivered by seven o’clock each morning, for example, and the other parts throughout the morning and afternoon at specific times.

“We had between 30 and 40 trucks operating every day,” says Lafrance. “We had daily meetings with the client, site contractor and trucking company to discuss the performance and to schedule the following days.”

Beyond the skills needed to transport outsized loads in a tight timeframe such as high security, wind turbines require a special kind of energy, notes Lafrance. “You need to be a bit of a magician,” he says. “This type of operation requires full-time scheduling.”

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