Expanding Energy

The wind energy sector is growing in more ways than one

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As renewable energy resources continue to grow, wind energy plays a prominent role, second only to solar. Wind energy has billions of dollars in capital investments behind it and roughly 125,000 Americans are employed in the wind energy industry. Those numbers will only continue to grow, according to the latest reports from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), as will the need for technology used to build the required infrastructure.

DOE says in its August report that wind energy is one of the fastest growing and lowest cost sources of electricity in America, accounting for 22 percent of new electricity capacity installed in the United States in 2022. With federal tax incentives driving new investments in wind farms, production to meet demand will certainly ramp up.

Forecasts for land-based wind energy installed by 2026 have increased nearly 60 percent from 11,500 megawatts to 18,000 megawatts, which is enough to power an additional 2 million homes, according to the DOE report. This bump in production has resulted in a manufacturing boost with DOE counting 11 announcements of facilities opening, re-opening or expanding.

Wind towers are massive, and it takes massive equipment to manufacture them. Pemamek is a leader in providing that equipment. In fact, the Finnish-based company has a long history of assisting European wind energy manufacturers with solutions for more efficient welding, and its automated positioning and welding solutions position the company to be an asset to U.S.-based manufacturers landing contracts for the infrastructure for onshore and onshore wind energy production.

Working from a platform, a single operator can monitor and manage all exterior welds.

Incentives for new construction

Part of the reason that renewables earn such favorable forecasts is based in the government incentives that help drive their growth. A prime example is the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which includes provisions for increased access to lower cost, clean energy while also providing a boost in job creation. Four programs specifically provide funding for clean energy, totaling roughly $13 billion, which will have a positive impact on the creation of wind farms in the United States.

Michael Bell, director of sales at Pemamek, says legislation dating back to 1920 is also helping to spur more commotion in the wind energy industry. The Jones Act requires that goods transported by water between U.S. parts be carried on ships constructed, owned and crewed by American entities. By some accounts, the Jones Act supports 650,000 American jobs and generates $150 billion economic activity annually, and those numbers can only grow stronger with more wind farms being constructed off American coasts.

“Pemamek is poised and aligned with the IRA and the Jones Act of 1920 by enabling the profitable manufacture of welded structures for both the wind and shipbuilding industries using customized, proven solutions with our proprietary software,” Bell says, adding that the software is “designed for welders by welders to enable the skilled workforce to ‘Make More.’”

Expanding infrastructure

Juhani Tuomola, Pemamek’s application engineer for wind energy, says the trend now is that everything wind related is getting bigger and going higher. And this is certainly the case with offshore production.

“They’re going farther offshore and the depth of the water is increasing,” Tuomola says. “And the turbine sizes are getting bigger and bigger.”

Everything around the turbines is growing larger and longer, too. The towers are being built taller to reach wind speeds found at higher elevations, and the blades used to “harvest” the wind are also growing longer and larger. Keeping all that infrastructure aloft and stable requires a sturdier and larger base, and Pemamek is tasked with developing solutions that can handle the massive materials used to construct these components.

While much of these trends have been seen in Europe, the United States is heading in the same direction. DOE says the hub height (the height at which the turbine sits) for utility-scale land-based turbines has increased 73 percent since 1998-1999. The hub height average for offshore towers in 2016 was 330 ft., but is expected to hit 500 ft. by 2035. For perspective, consider that land-based wind towers typically reach 305 ft., the height of the Statue of Liberty, and the projected average offshore towers will soar the same height as the 555-ft. Washington Monument. There is also talk of some offshore towers built on floating platforms potentially reaching 850 ft.

The LM milling machine for longitudinal milling enables pre-programable milling cycles for different thicknesses as well as integrated rollers for workpiece rotation.

Floating forward

As land-based wind farms continue to take root, the expectation is for offshore wind towers to become uprooted, so to speak. Currently, monopiles and jacketed structures have offshore wind towers firmly planted to the seabed relatively close to shore and in shallow waters. The wind tower sits atop the monopile, which serves as the solid underwater foundation. The jacketed structures resemble a bridge trellis, but essentially serve the same purpose as a monopile.

Tuomola says the monopile remains the top choice for offshore wind farms in development. Even in Europe where wind energy is far more established than anywhere else in the world, developers continue to rely on monopiles for their offshore foundations.

“The monopile is still the No. 1 solution,” he says. “It’s the easiest to manufacture in these environments.”

The European Union, however, has set a goal to have 50 percent of its energy derived from wind energy by 2050, which means going farther offshore into deeper waters that will necessitate floating wind towers. The floating technology, which will be tethered to cables attached to the seabed to keep the wind tower in place, will be supported on the water by a yet-to-be-determined floatation solution. In the running are technologies similar to buoys, semi-submersibles and tension-leg platforms, the latter of which are currently in use by the oil and gas industry’s offshore rigs.

For an overview of the various technologies Pemamek has developed for the wind energy sector, check out this video:
https://youtu.be/SaiTr1d8cxc

Unsurprisingly, the floating concept has grown beyond Europe. Last year, the U.S. floating offshore wind energy market reached a turning point as the first-ever commercial floating offshore wind energy lease areas were sold off the California coast where the water is too deep to use monopiles.

“There are many different floating designs for these foundations,” Tuomola says of the variety of options developers are considering. “Some of those are tubular, like the monopile, and some of those floating foundations are panel type. At Pemamek, we have a strong knowledge of the shipbuilding, and in shipbuilding you’re manufacturing panels.”

Meeting expectations

Whether it is offshore or onshore, federal tax incentives drive up demand for the construction of wind farms. The development of these huge towers is nearly impossible through manual processes and certainly impractical. By adopting automated solutions that position and weld the structure, yet require only one operator, manufacturers can step up and meet production demands.

For example, wind towers are comprised of segments, or shells, that must be expertly positioned, held in place and robotically welded (some manual welding may be required). Pemamek provides manufacturers with all the components required to efficiently tackle every part of the construction. One of the challenges is that the diameter of the towers continues to grow, Tuomola says.

Check out the video to see Pemamek’s solution for safe and efficient flange fit-up and welding.
https://youtu.be/No0L_PcdG0w

“Because the weights are getting bigger and bigger,” he says, “we have to scale up our roller beds, and that’s a big part of the automation in wind tower factories.”

Another important component is the flange fitting station where the tubular structure is positioned in the fit-up process for flange fitting and welding. Instead of using a crane, as is the traditional method, Pemamek utilizes a roller bed, offering a safer means of achieving the fitting and welding.

Joining seams takes a lot of preparation in any welding application, but the sheer size and weight of the material involved in building wind towers takes the complexity to another level. Pemamek’s answer to that is milling solutions for circular seam preparation and root opening, as well as a longitudinal milling machine for thick walls. The technology improves weld quality and efficiency, but also significantly reduces defect rates.

“To get quality weld, you need the groove, and with the milling machine machine you can make more narrow grooves,” Tuomola explains, adding that narrower grooves reduce weld time and the chance for errors.

Despite the overwhelming need to seek out alternative energy sources and the government incentives to facilitate the work, there are still hurdles to overcome. Fortunately, equipment and technology partners like Pemamek, can make the work more approachable.

Pemamek

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