An Epic Wind Turbine is Spinning in Scotland

The world's largest wind turbine is off the coast of Scotland. Construction started in 2012, with pieces assembled in the winter of 2013. Now the prototype is churning out enough power to supply 4,800 homes.

Illustration for article titled An Epic Wind Turbine is Spinning in Scotland

The turbine is big enough that it makes sense to use elephants as the basic unit of weight. (Plus, I'm bored of pounds, kilograms, and tons.) Each blade is 83.5 meters long, stretching the length of over a dozen elephants tail-to-trunk but weighing in at only three elephants apiece. The nacelle — the piece that houses all the generating components — weighs as much as 92 elephants. The whole construction stretches 196 meters above the sea, the height of 50 to 65 elephants stacked on top of each other (not accounting for strange postures as they try balance on each other's backs).

The super-sized pieces meant that all stages of construction and shipping were ridiculous. The steel jacket was carefully shipped via barge in very, very calm waters:

Watching the blades get transported is the part that totally entrances me. Built in Denmark, they had to wind their way over field and hill, and even a wee bit of ocean, before reaching the installation location in Scotland.

Calling it an offshore turbine is a bit of a technicality — the turbine stands barely 50 meters off the coast. The 7MW prototype turbine reached operational capacity late last year, and will run for five years as they evaluate if it lives up to expectations.

Illustration for article titled An Epic Wind Turbine is Spinning in Scotland

As alway, "largest," "biggest," and all those other superlatives depends on exactly what you're measuring. The prototype in Scotland has the longest blades of any operational wind turbine, but it's beat out for power by an 8MW being tested in Osterild, Denmark, and a whole herd of 7.5MW Enercon E126 turbines.

Just how big are these monster turbines compared to the more typical 2 to 3 MW turbines that populate wind fields? An average 2.5 MW turbine's full stretch, the diameter across the entire face, is smaller than the length of a single blade of Scottland's 7 MW prototype.

Photography credits Samsung Heavy Industries, Fife, Graham Construction, and SSP Technology.


An earlier version of this article, and the preview-text that pops up when the article is shared, states that the wind turbine can power 28,000 homes. That was a relict from an early draft dealing with idealized calculation of friction-free surfaces, steady perfect winds, and other ideas that don't function in reality. While the turbine should produce a colossal 7 MW, the trial period is evaluating if the prototype lives up to calculated expectations of enough power for 4,800 homes.



For reference, most large commercial wind turbines are 2.5-3 MW. 7 MW is like holy shit crazy power generation.

For reference, I'd like to know if we're talking male or female Indian or African elephants here?