Wind energy infrastructure is massive, and continues getting bigger. So when wind turbine companies ship blades, towers and other large pieces of equipment to wind farm developers across the world, they need technology and expertise to handle such an immense delivery challenge.
American Wind Technology, Lone Star Transportation, Vermont Electric Co-op and Green Mountain Power partnered for such a project in Vermont, United States.
In this case, the project developers and their consultants turned to technology to help them safely navigate the critical infrastructure through existing roadways, rather than disturbing the environment to build new ones.
“Companies don’t want to make new roads,” says Brandon Brown, Senior Project Manager for Lone Star Transportation. “The less that’s needed to build, the better. It increases the likelihood they can make a project happen.”
However, the logistics of transporting oversized wind farm infrastructure is incredibly complex without the right expertise and technology.
The sight of a 54-metre wind turbine blade can stop traffic, literally and figuratively. It’s one of the most challenging pieces of equipment to transport.
“We know the tip of the blade overhangs quite far at the back end of the trailer,” says Alex Lockard, Civil Engineer at Vestas American Wind Technology Inc. “It swings way out as you go through tight radius turns, and it can hit all kinds of things such as light poles, utility poles, trees and structures. All these things have to be checked.”
Things get even more complicated when wind farm locations are off the beaten path. The wind energy project in Lowell, Vermont, co-developed by Vermont Electric Co-op and Green Mountain Power, is situated on a mountain range.
Charles Pughe, Project Manager for Green Mountain Power, knew the 2.4-kilometre journey to site could be a major challenge. “It was very steep, sometimes in the 15 percent range,” says Mr. Pughe. “One of the tricks would be to figure out what the turns were going to be like.”
Several months prior to moving the blades and tower sections, Vestas and Lone Star partnered with Transoft Solutions to perform a number of vehicle tests in a Vestas work yard in Brighton, Colorado.
Transoft, a specialist provider of transportation engineering software, helped the Vestas project team learn how the wind energy equipment moves when making specific turns and carried on an oversized, overweight vehicle.
The process involved replicating the critical roadway geometry of the planned access road for the complex terrain of the project. GPS coordinates from key points on the truck, trailer and loaded blade were recorded. Using AutoTURN from Transoft Solutions and AutoCAD software, the swept path of the simulated vehicle matched the swept path of the field test vehicle accurately, with variances consistently less than 30 centimetres.
“The reason the geometry was so critical for this project is that this was a ridge-top, mountain-side project,” says Mr. Lockard. “The project developers were going to have to blast rock out of the way to construct the roads. Every square inch mattered to them and to us from a sustainability standpoint.”
The Colorado field test served several purposes. It helped Vestas show Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Co-op that the road geometry would work. The test validated AutoTURN’s reputation as accurate modeling software and it also helped Vestas gain some peace of mind that the blades would not get damaged on the way up the steep and twisting roads.
The value of using Transoft Solutions software and expertise on wind energy projects is considerable.
By using AutoTURN, wind energy infrastructure companies such as Vestas are able to manufacture even larger pieces of equipment.
For renewable energy companies such as EDP Renewables, Vermont Electric Co-op and Green Mountain Power, AutoTURN is a tool that ultimately helps them optimise energy generation and minimise land disturbance. Getting equipment to site with greater ease also means projects are developed on schedule and on budget.
“Ultimately, the software worked great,” says Mr. Pughe. “We made virtually no modifications to the road going up the hill based on our modelling of it, except filling in some ditches and giving ourselves some extra room in the corners by cutting down a tree or two. We did that just to be safe and we didn’t want to find out after we bumped a blade into a tree.”
Mr. Pughe says being able to transport bigger turbines to site also pays off in the long-term. “We were looking to maximise the size and generating capacity of the wind turbines.”
The field work and research that Transoft Solutions has done over the past two years with special transport stakeholders puts the company in a unique position in the transportation engineering arena. Steven Chan, Transoft’s Vice President of Simulation, believes that recent projects show that Transoft is a reliable partner in the wind energy industry.
“The turbines and blades coming from companies like Vestas present unique engineering challenges and vehicle swept path software plays an important role in solving them,” says Mr. Chan. “There’s lots of collaboration ahead and we’re pleased that companies like Vestas, Lone Star Transportation, Green Mountain Power and others have used AutoTURN successfully in their projects.”