The UK government has decided to make a £4.4 million grant to US company Clipper Windpower to help it build a new factory, in the northeast of England, that will manufacture blades for its new generation of giant turbines intended for offshore deployment. The company is now the only maker of major wind turbine components in the UK following the failure of the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight, a development widely seen as a humiliating setback for the UK government’s widely advertised ‘green’ policies, and it will be welcomed by ministers as a species of rehabilitation.
The factory’s products really will be giants – while most makers are aiming at 3-6 MW sizes, with Vestas, Siemens and GE Energy all announcing new 3 and 3.5 MW units in recent weeks, Clipper is developing a 10 MW unit. It will stand 175 metres tall, while each blade will be more than 70 metres long and weigh over 30 tonnes. This is generally reckoned to be close to the limit of what can be achieved with current designs, owing mainly to physical factors such as the weight of the top section and the bending forces on the tower.

Clipper will occupy the new 4 000 square metre facility, which will be situated on the River Tyne, from the start of April 2010, and the plant is expected to employ 60 people by the end of the year. The government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The government says that Clipper plans to “utilise fully the emerging UK supply chain opportunities” in developing the manufacturing process for the new turbine, which will be deployed initially in European waters once serial production begins.

The Crown Estate, which is organising the UK’s Round III offshore wind tender, supporting the project and has agreed to purchase Clipper’s Britannia prototype ‘in order to gain first hand knowledge of the challenges facing the development of wind turbines specialised for deep water marine deployment’.