As the demand for wind energy increases, there is a need for wind turbines to be more efficient, long-lived and productive than ever. Accordingly, a great deal of research and development is being put into improving the drivetrain assemblies on turbines. The drivetrain assembly is vital to the proper functioning of a turbine – it is here that the torque of the blades is converted into electricity. We anticipate the introduction of innovative new solutions in this regard soon, considering the latest trends and opportunities that are currently presenting themselves.
Gearbox vs direct drive
The standard in drivetrain technology since wind turbines were first developed has consisted of a gearbox connecting the rotor and the generator. The problem with gearboxes is that they contain a lot of moving parts, which makes them prone to wear and tear – and costly to maintain. Technology developers, under the auspices of the Department of Energy, are now seeking out new, more efficient and economical alternatives. Most of the solutions currently being researched involve variations on direct-drive technology.
Direct drive generators can produce electricity at much lower speeds and they do not require gearboxes – and thus have fewer moving parts. Initial designs were still costly, however, as they required permanent magnets, which involve the use of expensive rare earth metals such as neodymium and dysprosium. They also needed heavier generators than geared turbines. There are now projects underway to develop high-efficiency direct-drive turbines that do not require magnets and rare earths. These are referred to as superconducting drivetrains. In addition to reducing the number of moving parts and creating a system that runs much more smoothly than gearbox-driven ones, most superconductor designs are also much lighter, which reduces costs and loads that towers are expected to carry.
Anemoi Energy Services is watching these research and development projects closely to see which design will emerge as the new standard. We expect significant improvements in the costs and operations of wind turbines. We assist the growing renewable energy industry by offering comprehensive, proactive wind turbine services. Contact us for more information on our wind turbine maintenance services.