The Enercon E-126 wind turbines required a 198 m crane to install the units at the Estinnes facility, near the town of Mons in Wallonia. At 1600 tonne, the world’s largest crawler crane was developed and constructed specially for lifting the 127 m diameter rotor in one step.

The models are among the most efficient in the world. Compared with a state-of-the-art 2 MW wind turbine, the E-126 increases the use in MW/km² by the factor of 2.3.

“The E-126 wind turbine comprises the most advanced power electronics in use in the wind sector and is able to provide grid stabilising ancillary services which before were reserved for conventional power plants,” said European energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs at the opening. “Estinnes is a milestone on our ambitious road to sustainable energy.”

The €6.2 million wind farm was co-financed by the European Commission with funding from the 7th Framework Programme (FP7). The pilot demonstration calls for 11 of the wind turbines to be installed by July 2012, to demonstrate “the development of a cost-effective large-scale high-capacity wind park using new state-of-the-art multi-megawatt turbines coupled with innovative technology used to stabilise the grid.”

The wind farm is the first large-scale on-shore facility in Belgium and the site will assess technical issues (network stability and security), financial aspects (cost effectiveness), as well as environmental issues (landscape pollution). Improved forecasting will improve the cost-effectiveness of the high-capacity wind park and the lessons learned at Estinnes will be adapted to a different national context with a weak grid system on the island of Cyprus, the commission explains.

The Estinnes wind farm is “one the most suited and best developed options to further increase the onshore wind power exploitation potential in Europe at a high supply security and at affordable costs,” said Piebalgs. Nicolas Fichaux of the European Wind Energy Association said the turbines show that Europe still has the “technological lead” in the wind industry.

“The Estinnes project shows how huge the potential for onshore wind power in Europe is,” adds Bernhard Fink of Enercon. “If we want to reach the target of the EU Renewable Energy Directive for 2020, onshore wind power will have to play a major role. Otherwise a fully renewable electricity supply will not be feasible - neither from the financial point of view nor concerning the potential.”

The 11 turbines are expected to generate 187 GWh a year. Currently, the E-126 models at Estinnes are running at a maximum of 6 MW capacity.

In 2008, the European Union saw another record year with installations of 8.5 GW of wind turbines, and the European Wind Energy Association says cumulative wind capacity increased 15% to reach a level of 65 GW, up from 57 GW at the end of 2007. The new wind capacity represents manufacturing revenue of €11 bn.