Transporting wind turbines: The long journey of the rotor blades

In the middle

As of: December 9th, 2023 3:19 p.m

The federal government wants to promote the expansion of wind power. But it’s not just approval and planning that takes a lot of time. Bringing wind turbines to their location can be a daunting task.

“That wasn’t planned,” says Oliver Neumaier, project manager at the Freiburg green energy provider Badenovawärmeplus. “Normally the self-propelled vehicle would have started on the tar road. But permission was probably not obtained.”

The “self-propelled vehicle” is a vehicle weighing several tons that is used to transport the rotor blade of a wind turbine – for the last, often particularly difficult kilometers of the route. The day before, workers installed a 68-meter-long wind blade on the “self-propelled vehicle,” which is now standing in a muddy parking lot. The other two rotor blades are still next to it.

Parking with a weight of 168 tons

The “self-propelled” vehicle including the rotor blade weighs a total of 168 tons. The fact that permission was not obtained to park the colossus on the asphalt is the fault of the transport company. Now their workers place steel plates on the mud so that the tires of the transport vehicle do not sink. It’s a risky maneuver out of a parking space, between several trees and right next to the busy federal highway 33, which crosses the Black Forest.

Everything goes well, the journey can begin – initially on the asphalt. But later the asphalted part of the route will end and the wet surface will become a problem.

The “Team Bladelifter” transports the wing

Andreas Meiwandt is responsible for ensuring that the rotor blade reaches its destination. Meiwandt is a team leader at the transport company Steil. He steers the transport vehicle by remote control, and his colleague Günter Göbel – also by remote control – controls the wing: He can raise, lower and rotate it so that the wing can get around corners as well as possible.

Meiwandt, Göbel and the other employees of the transport company traveled specifically from Trier to the Black Forest. They call themselves “Team Bladelifters”, the experts in the transport of wind blades. The rotor blades themselves have a further journey behind them: from the production site in the north of Portugal by ship to Cuxhaven and from there across Germany to the Black Forest.

The most difficult part of the route now lies ahead of them: the last seven kilometers. They lead across a small village and then over muddy forest paths with tight curves up to a hilltop in the middle of the Black Forest. The tower of the wind turbine is already there: the blades are to be mounted on it.

Andreas Meiwandt controls the transport of the rotor blade from a short distance.

Complicated Approval process

The transport: For Sebastian Schüßler, head of wind project development at “Badenovawärmeplus”, it is the last stage of a long journey. The first planning for the so-called “Kallenwald wind farm” began seven years ago. Contrary to what the name suggests, it will initially only consist of a single system.

The project development was still complicated: “When it comes to approvals, all levels play a role: Europe, the federal government, the state – and of course the affected municipalities,” says Schüßler. The procedures for transporting, constructing and operating a wind turbine are correspondingly lengthy.

This also had consequences for the system in Kallenwald: the bureaucratic procedures took so long that the type of system that was originally planned was no longer available at some point. “So we had to re-approve a smaller facility,” says Schüßler. “And even if the facility is smaller, the district office has to review all issues again: How does the noise behave? How does the shadow behave? And so on.”

Widened paths, felled trees

In principle, Schüßler thinks it’s good that all interventions in nature have to be approved in advance. He emphasizes that after the laborious transport of the rotor blades, many things will be restored as best as possible: widened paths will then be dismantled and felled trees will be replanted. But the fact that the procedures take so long not only makes his work more difficult, but also endangers the goals of the energy transition as a whole.

When the first rotor blade is transported to the Kallenwald, it becomes apparent that a lot can still go wrong, even on the last stage of putting a wind turbine into operation. The journey through the narrow streets and between the houses of the village of Prinzbach runs without incident. But there are problems in the forest. The surface of the specially developed forest path is soaked due to the rain of the previous days, and the vehicle keeps getting stuck in the curves.

The heavy-duty transporter keeps getting stuck on sodden roads. It takes five days for the rotor blade to reach its destination.

Transport must be interrupted

First, a semi-trailer can help: with its help, the men manage to push the transport vehicle around a curve. But the curve that follows is even narrower – and steeper. The semi-trailer truck has to push again, this time in vain. “We are at the end,” says transport specialist Meiwandt to Badenova project manager Schüßler. Shortly before dark, the transport finally got stuck.

It wasn’t until the following morning that the men, with the help of a towing vehicle from the local forestry company, managed to pull the “self-propelled vehicle” around the curve. However, the transport cannot continue because strong winds have picked up. This causes problems for the men even days later: Above the treetops, the measuring device installed at the tip of the wind blade measures wind speeds of more than ten meters per second – that’s too much. Meiwandt has to cancel the transport again.

The rotor blade ultimately doesn’t reach its destination until the following day – five days after it started moving in the valley. But two rotor blades are still down at this point. Only when these are up can the system go into operation – seven years after the initial plans.

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