In Focus

Lubricants play a vital role in making the wind energy more sustainable

Lubricants play a vital role in making the wind energy more sustainable

Wind energy operators and OEMs contribute to the overall reduction of fossil energy use, with a correlating reduction in emissions such as CO2. Fabio Zanella, Head of Wind Energy at Klüber Lubrication, explains how lubricants can contribute immensely to more efficiency and sustainability in wind turbines.

Wind energy operators and OEMs contribute to the overall reduction of fossil energy use, with a correlating reduction in emissions such as CO2. The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) states that in 2016 wind power prevented the generation of 637 million tonnes of CO2 emissions globally [1] This amounts to around 2 % of the global energy-related CO2 emissions standing at 32.5 gigatonnes [2]. So while the impact is already very big now, there is still a high potential for emission reductions through more wind energy. Besides their sustainability handprint, i.e. the reduction of their customers’ use of resources, wind energy operators also have their own sustainability footprint in mind. Fabio Zanella, Head of Wind Energy at Klüber Lubrication, explains how lubricants can contribute immensely to more efficiency and sustainability in wind turbines.

As everybody in the industry is fully aware, wind energy is not for free. Wind turbines are pieces of huge and complex machinery that cost millions of euros. They have to compete with other sources of energy and the investment has to pay off. There is a very simple KPI in the wind energy industry: Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCoE). It represents the unit-cost of electricity today, taking into account the full life of the asset, in this case the wind turbine. It is the basis for the decision to invest or not in a source of energy. The lower the LCoE, the cheaper wind power is compared to fossil sources of energy. To decrease the LCoE is the main challenge of the wind industry. Once this is achieved, wind will be pushing out fossil fuels from the energy matrix - there are few things that could be more sustainable than power from wind. Lubricants can contribute to that goal and help make wind energy more competitive.

Wind turbines have to become bigger to be more efficient and sustainable.

The successful approach to decreasing LCoE is not cutting costs and producing cheaper wind turbines. This would rather increase the LCoE due to the problems generated by cheaper and low-performance components. It could actually eliminate wind energy competitiveness. The way to overcome this challenge is technological development. Future wind turbines have to become larger, more efficient, and more reliable. They also have to last longer than today. Nowadays wind turbines have already monumental dimensions. Creating even larger ones requires tremendous performance on the part of the components. Taking into account that the rotor will be larger than 200 metres in diameter, the size of the bearings will be easily larger than 3 metres and in some cases blade bearings could go to 8 metres or more. These bearings have to work with as much precision as small bearings in an electric motor.

Reliability and efficient logistics are key

However, it is not only dimension that is a challenge. The reliability of the components has to be very high. LCoE will not forgive failures during the entire lifetime of the asset. That means those bearings have to work properly for more than 25 years, ensuring reliability as well availability of the system, which is also a key contributor to decreasing LCoE, and hence increasing the attractiveness of the energy source. Another factor that should not be considered secondary is the supply chain: it must be a global one. Both the demand for energy and the wind resources are scattered around the globe. Logistics poses another major challenge to the use of wind energy. A global presence can contribute to sustainability by reducing the need for the transport of machinery and equipment. Local energy production can contribute massively to a reduction of CO2 emissions. Klüber Lubrication can deliver to many countries worldwide and help the operator to save transport costs and CO2.

Lubricants are key in raising efficiency

Lubricants play an important role in increasing the efficiency of wind turbines. Modern speciality lubricants are required to make the next generation of turbines run smoothly and for a long time. A leading lubricant specialist like Klüber Lubrication can support wind energy operators worldwide in reducing the LCoE by supplying globally the lubricants that will assure the required performance in the next generation of wind turbines, ensuring a long lifetime, reliability and availability.

Learn more about our solutions for the wind industry here: https://www.klueber.com/en/applications/industry/wind-power-industry/

 

[1] http://gwec.net/global-figures/wind-in-numbers

[2] https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/GECO2017.pdf, page2