How a Small Island Made Itself the Center of a Revolution in Wind Energy Engineering

By Keith Breene
Courtesy of MHI Vestas Offshore Wind

The Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England, can make for an idyllic vacation destination. But it has another identity that deserves recognition, as the center of the world’s offshore wind turbine industry.

The island has a long legacy of manufacturing and engineering, stretching back to shipbuilding in the 18th and 19th centuries and continuing until today with airborne items such as hovercraft, helicopters, and rockets.

Today, a factory on the island makes the largest serially-produced turbine blades in the world, placing itself at the heart of a thriving and skilled hub of engineering.

A Developing Industry

The wind turbine industry on the island has seen plenty of changes over the last 20 years as Aero Laminates became NEG Micon, then Vestas and finally the joint venture that exists today, MHI Vestas Offshore Wind.

MVOW has two manufacturing sites on the island, and the company has kept pace with the demands of the industry In 2017, it repurposed a decommissioned oil-fired power plant on the mainland in nearby Southampton, turning it into a state-of-the-art finishing and logistics facility. Today, a giant barge takes wind turbine blades from the island across the water to be painted there.

The MHI Vestas sites bring valuable skilled employment to an area which, like many other coastal communities in the UK and elsewhere in the world, will need to refill job opportunities as the demands for them become more technical. Just as the island’s rich history of innovation benefits the wind turbine industry, the industry is making a major contribution to the region’s socio-economic development.

Record-Setting Veating Blades

The boom in wind power investment, driven in part by a global transition to clean energy and the need to reduce the effects of climate change, has created rapid growth in the sector and huge strides in the capabilities of individual turbines.

The V164 9.5 MW offshore wind turbine stands at 195 meters from sea to blade tip, making it twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty. Each blade is bigger than the wingspan of the 747 jumbo jet, and a single turn powers an average home in the United Kingdom for up to 29 hours.

100 of these massive turbines are being installed in the Moray Firth off Scotland’s East Coast, where they will be able to power about 1 million homes by 2022. Another 90 turbines will be situated at Triton Knoll off England’s east coast, generating energy to power an additional 800,000 homes.

The UK is becoming a world leader in wind power generation, not just through the commission of such large wind farms but through its exports to Europe and the rest of the world.

The blades for these turbines are manufactured using the latest composite production technology. Turbines have come a long way from a limited capacity of 1.6 MW to their current 9.5 MW-capable systems, and the world-class manufacturing and composite technology have grown alongside them.

Laser measurement and guidance, combined with uniquely structured composite materials, continue to ensure that the massive strains borne by the turbine are distributed throughout the structure, keeping it stable.

Courtesy of MHI Vestas Offshore Wind
Local Talent Makes an Impact

The success of MHI Vestas is a success for the region, with the company supporting a wide supply chain, a growing skills base and significant investment in training the local workforce on the Isle of Wight.

MVOW has invested £1 million ($1.3 million) in training programs and works closely with the recently-opened Centre of Excellence for Composites, Advanced Manufacturing and Marine at the Isle of Wight College, which has a workshop modeled on the working environment at MHI Vestas.

There is no better example of the impact of the wind turbine industry on the island than James Luter, Director of Production for MHI Vestas Offshore Wind Blades UK Manufacturing.

An Isle of Wight local who studied at Southampton, James was planning to move away from the island until his mother convinced him to apply for a job at the local blade factory.

Since beginning his wind power career at MVOW, he hasn’t looked back. James is now responsible for all blade production on the Isle of Wight and supervises the more than 300 people who produce 80-meter blades for the company’s V164 turbine platform.

Courtesy of MHI Vestas Offshore Wind
Meeting Surging Demands

The Isle of Wight is a clear example of the way the wind power revolution can help communities that have missed out so many of the opportunities created by globalization.

With the world shifting rapidly to invest in technologies that promote decarbonization, the wind power industry is set for extraordinary growth. That growth will lead to the creation of hubs of innovation in different locations around the world making the next generation of turbine blades. As it becomes a pillar of energy manufacturing, the wind power industry will continue to create highly-skilled engineering jobs and revitalize local communities, whether in the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. or beyond.

With a 20 year track record as a national media journalist, Keith Breene has worked in newsrooms including the BBC and ITN, as well as having extensive experience in the corporate sector.

A version of this article was previously published on SPECTRA.