FEATURE: Heavylift’s fresh air challenge
Chris McCall | Thursday, 05 July 2012
The heavylift sector must be bold and innovative to capture wind power customers. Chris McCall reports.
However, forwarders need to improvise if they are to capitalise on this dramatic growth in wind power, says Kevin Stephens, General Manager of heavylift logistics network Project Professionals Group (PPG), headquartered in Australia.
Wind power is rapidly becoming one of the heavylift sector’s prime customers, and some operators are now finding around half of their business is in this area, he says. However, they are also finding that this business comes with its own challenges, and to be successful they need to innovate.
According to figures from the European Wind Energy Association, last year new wind power generators producing 10,281 megawatts of electricity were installed in Europe, most of it within the EU. Investment in EU wind farms last year reached €12.6 billion.
The technology is high-tech, can be fragile, is rapidly developing and is getting bigger, adds Stephens. It also frequently needs to travel a long way by sea and then road before it is installed on a hilltop somewhere.
Nevertheless it is set to be a dominant customer for the heavylift market in the years to come. “It is probably the highest growth industry now in the world,” says Stephens.
The change is forcing the heavylift sector to re-think its practices, as it deals with huge but carefully-engineered items like wind turbine blades, which despite their immense size can be easily damaged in transport. A single blade can be worth millions of dollars, and once landed in port, may have to travel hundreds of kilometres by road before reaching its final destination.
Blades destined for inland wind farms require special cradles to protect them during transit. And the size of these components is increasing.
“When the blades were originally made they were maybe 30 or 40 metres in diameter,” Stephens says. “Now they are getting up to 80 metres. They are twice as heavy and twice as complex and twice as difficult to move.
“So the heavylift owners and transporters are having to rethink how they move these things.
Once it arrives in port these units may have to go several hundred miles inland.
“You have got to have very special equipment. Logistically it is very complex. They are getting bigger and more expensive and therefore it is more difficult to handle them. They are very expensive and very sensitive and you cannot damage them.”
The European Wind Energy Association says 93.7 gigawatts of wind power had been installed across the EU by the end of 2011, up 11% on the previous year. Furthermore, as EU members rush to comply with European directives on clean power generation, the profile of the countries investing in wind power has changed.
Not so long ago, within the EU most wind power generators were located in Germany, Spain and Denmark, countries regarded as pioneers of this technology within Europe.
These days, these three countries are no longer so dominant. Germany remained the largest market within the EU last year, but the UK was second, with the share represented by offshore wind farms slowly increasing.
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