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How GE engineers modified wind turbines to generate power in the Oman desert



The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, Masdar, announced last week that the first of 13 turbines that will make up the 50MW Dhofar Wind Farm has been installed. 

The first turbine of the Dhofar wind farm has been installed by Spanish engineering firm TSK
(Image via GE)

This is a significant project, marking the first commercial scale wind farm for the country. The project follows an agreement signed in 2014 between Masdar and the Rural Areas Electricity Company of Oman (Tanweer) and will provide power to the national utility until 2033. 

It’s part of Oman’s plans, released in a seven-year statement in May, to source 10% of its electricity from renewables by 2025. 

“The country has immense untapped potential in renewable energy, particularly wind energy. With this project, we are demonstrating our strong commitment to supporting the diversification of the energy mix in Oman and the wider region,” said Dr Manar Al Moneef, GE’s general manager for renewable energy in the Middle East.

The 50MW wind farm is located in the Dhofar Governorate in Southern Oman
(The windfarm is located in the Dhofar Governorate, South Oman - image via Google Maps)

What also makes this project stand out is the environmental obstacles that have had to be overcome. GE’s 3.8-130 wind turbines have been customised by specialist engineers to withstand the extreme desert conditions that are specific to the Gulf region.

“Heat and sand make it difficult for normal wind turbines to operate in the desert”, explained GE Renewable Energy program manager, Rebeca Calderon.

A standard turbine needs to retain an internal temperature below 55°C. Above that, heat-sensitive electronic components are knocked out and lubrication oil in the gearbox begins to go runny, making it ineffective and causing the gears to grind.

For this reason, most turbines only work at full power up to an outside temperature of 35°C. Between 35°C and 40°C the power capacity is reduced to prevent further internal heating, and at over 40°C it will shut down completely. 

In Oman’s summer, temperatures can reach a height of 45°C.

Construction of the first turbine in the Dhofur wind farm
(Image via Masdar)

The strong winds that make the area ideal for such a wind farm can also be catastrophic for the turbines - creating violent sandstorms that can damage the machinery. 

To combat both problems, engineers developed modifications that will keep the internal mechanism cool while protecting it from sand. The team cut four openings in the turbine’s nacelle - the box at the top of the tower that houses the gearbox, generator and controller.

Four sets of louvers - angled slats - were then installed to cover the openings. These are designed to act as a filter - allowing air in while keeping sand out. Wiry brushes were also installed in the small gaps between the tower and nacelle to ensure no sand can get in from any part.

“In a sandstorm, sand is flying in all directions, but this system keeps the air that is circulating through the top of the turbine filtered and clean,” said Calderon.

Though the sand is kept out, air will be able to get in and circulate, cooling once it gets to the top of the structure. 

“There’s no refrigeration - we’re just using the power of convection.”

To protect the internal mechanism and electrics, the standard GE wind turbine has been modified to allow airflow and prevent sand getting in
(Inside of a standard GE Wind Turbine - image via GE)

Thanks to these solutions, GE say that their modified turbines can produce electricity at 100% capacity up to a temperature of 40°C, and at a reduced capacity between 40°C and 45°C.

This makes them uniquely suited to Oman’s desert, where electricity will still be able to be produced even in the midday heat - creating hundreds of extra megawatt hours per day for the country’s grid.

It also opens up the potential for further projects in previously unsuitable territories. 

“There are lots of sites across the region that have extreme hot weather and sandy areas, where wind may be an option now because of this design.”

13 modified turbines will be installed at the Dhofur 50MW wind farm
(Image via Masdar)

The turbines are being installed at the Dhofar wind farm by the Spanish engineering firm TSK. The twelve remaining turbines are expected to be installed by March, and the full wind farm due to be complete in the third quarter of 2019. 

It will power 16,000 homes in the south of Oman and is estimated to offset around 110,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

“We are steadfast in our commitment to funding renewable energy projects that benefit socio-economic sectors and reduce harmful emissions. ADFD is proud to work alongside its national and international partners and bring the Gulf’s largest wind farm to Oman,” said Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi, Director General of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD).

“Not only will the electricity generated by the Dhofar project help in supporting Oman’s growing energy demand and economic growth, it is also expected to help reduce domestic reliance on gas for electricity generation. This supply can soon be redirected towards more valuable industrial uses and to preserve natural gas resources.”

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How GE engineers modified wind turbines to generate power in the Oman desert - Time to read 5 min
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