The logistics of transporting wind turbines is one of the biggest challenges the wind energy industry faces. Without question, freight rail is uniquely suited to deliver for this industry because trains can carry heavy parts long distances at a lower cost to shippers, easing pressure on highways while reducing traffic congestion. Here, a freight train moves wind turbine blades to their final destination.
Today, more than 400 manufacturing plants across the U.S. build wind turbine components. These components are then transported, often by rail, to their final destination where they are assembled on site. Wind energy is generated in nearly 40 different states, with Texas, Iowa, California, Washington, and Oregon having the most wind energy production.
Wind turbine components are also manufactured internationally. The Port of Longview, just north of Portland, OR, has become one of the nation’s top entry points for wind energy equipment made in Denmark and Germany. To maximize efficiency of turbine component transport, the port designed a specialized system to move them from the dock directly to rail cars, eliminating the need for trucks in that stage of the transportation process.
More than 8,000 parts are required for a fully assembled wind turbine, which can weigh up to 335 tons, and transporting them presents an enormous challenge for shippers. It can take as many as 689 trucks, 140 railcars and 8 water vessels to deliver all the components necessary to build a small, 150 megawatt wind farm.
A nacelle, weighing nearly 70 tons and the size of a small motor home, houses all of the technical components necessary to generate power from wind. Railroads use hydraulic cranes to load these heavy parts onto the cars. After rail transport and assembly, performed on-site, this nacelle will sit atop the turbine tower, which is typically about 213 feet long and contains enough steel to manufacture 206 average automobiles.
Workers load turbine components onto a rail car. Shown here are the turbine’s main shaft, main thrust bearing and transmission, sealed for transport.
A rotor blade is carefully lifted from a rail car. Each blade is almost 130 feet long—the same length as a Boeing 737—and weighs just over 77,000 pounds. It is estimated that the blades of a wind turbine sweep an air space more than an acre wide, the size of three NHL hockey rinks combined.
The U.S. Department of Energy says that by 2030, 20 percent of America’s electricity could come from wind power alone. Reaching that level would require installation of 7,000 turbines—or more than 50,000 shipments of turbine components by rail—annually by 2018.
With a single train able to take up to 280 trucks off our nation’s highways, moving wind components by rail relieves highway congestion and eases stress on their infrastructure. Freight rail is the economical, sensible transportation choice for North America’s rapidly expanding wind energy industry.
America’s families rely on a variety of energy sources to power their lives. The world’s largest wind farm has more than 600 wind turbines that generate enough electricity to power 220,000 homes per year. With a 28 mile per hour breeze blowing all day, a single turbine can produce enough electricity to light 350 homes. Energy generated by wind promises a bright future for the U.S., as does greater use of the world’s greenest mode of freight transportation, railroads.