A Bird’s Eye View Atop a Wind Turbine: Offshore Wind as Experienced in Denmark

students looking at wind turbinesHolding tightly onto the bar of the small speedboat, fully packed with ten students suited up in survival suits, our Renewable Energies Systems class is all set for the field study of the semester: to climb an offshore wind turbine. All I hear are the fast winds that rush past my face, and I smell the salty waters off the shore of Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen. In the distance, our destination appears so small until the boat stops just beneath the base of the turbine at the Middelgrunden Offshore Wind Turbine Farm. Only then did the 64 meter high wind turbine become daunting, but we were ready for an experience of a lifetime. 

When climbing the interior ladder, I noticed the tower was divided into about 11 platforms. After climbing straight up to the top, we reached the nacelle, which is connected to the blades and contains the rotor speed shafts, gear box, generator, and controller. Surprisingly, despite all the heavy gear, 11 adults were able to fit in the space. Although the turbine was not spinning while we visited, we were able to see how the wind turbine transforms kinetic energy from the wind to mechanical energy to produce electricity. As the wind turns the blades, the rotor begins to spin, and its rotation is sped up when connected to the gearbox. The gearbox reduces wear and tear of the mechanical turbine turning and allows for a smaller generator. The electricity generated through this process is then transported to land as direct current through undersea cables.

map of wind turbines system
Professor Mmanuel Gentil’s class

Despite witnessing the mechanics, the most incredible moment of the trip was by far the moment the roof of the nacelle was opened up and we could poke our heads out above the rounded outer layer to see how high up we actually were. We could see Copenhagen off in the distance, and the line of the tops of other wind turbines all at eye level. In this breathtaking moment, I was reminded of the engineering feat of building and maintaining not only one wind turbine, but the entire wind farm. 

wind turbine in ocean

At this wind farm, there are twenty wind turbines lined up annually producing 85,000 MWh of electricity since its installation in 2001. This represents only 3% of Copenhagen’s total power consumption, but the country’s total electricity generation mix is made up of about 55-60% renewable energy (mostly wind and solar). On a windy day the turbines have even produced 140% of electricity, an excess of power that is sold into neighboring countries’ grids.

students examining wind turbines mechanics, led by professor

Needless to say, wind power has become an important part of the renewable energy expansion and success in Denmark. The success of offshore wind farms, where there is typically higher intensity wind compared with on-shore, should be used as an example for other countries and regions to also invest in offshore wind. As the world rapidly moves toward renewable energy expansion, offshore wind has proven to be a stable source of power and energy alternative. Of course it never hurts to experience the turbines first hand.

The DIS Copenhagen program offers several environmental studies related classes and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that have altered my perspectives and allowed me to gain new insight into the worlds of renewable energy, environmental policy, and polar biology. Aside from these classes, simply living in a city that has some emphasis on sustainable living has broadened my knowledge of what could be possible living in urban areas within large and small communities. From renewable energy commitments, to the integration of daily cycling, to individual separation of trash, a more sustainable lifestyle is woven into society just a little more than what I experienced growing up. I would highly recommend a visit to Copenhagen to anyone. 

woman next to wind turbine. it is a cloudy day and the wind turbine is in the ocean

Meaghan Bohem ‘25 is a Biology and Political Science major and Environmental Studies concentrator, and former ZC Solar Intern who is studying abroad this semester in Copenhagen, in a program focusing on environmental studies, science, and sustainability.