Traditional mechanical components from Centa Tranmissions are now finding applications within the global renewable energy industry – in wind turbines, tidal power generation plants and hybrid vehicles
The latest government energy policy set out in the 2012 Energy Bill aims to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and produce 30% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. This will create opportunities for UK businesses with the skills to be at the forefront of growth and innovation in the renewable energy sector. However, according to Michael Sykes, gears manager at Centa Transmissions, if the Government wants to make tracks with their energy policy, they need “to first focus on offering support to UK manufacturers”.
Manufacturing and engineering for the renewable energy sector is, for the most part, overseas, but this is one of those opportunities where the UK should be top of the tree. For original ideas, conceptual design and prototype development, this has been the case for UK manufacturing and engineering for many years – and in order for the renewable energy industry to thrive, it is imperative that the Government not only listens to the thoughts and ideas of the industry, but actually acts on them.
The long-term vision of Government energy policy is paramount and we should not forget their commitment to a low carbon economy. The very nature of renewable energy, although there are some small localised generation devices which should not be ignored, is based around high cost, high stake, long-term engineering projects. Long-term is the off-putting factor for the UK Government when it comes to manufacturing.
Wind turbines are a prime example, as the time span to design and bring the technology to market is around ten years. Other Governments have seen this and are eager to assist their local industry, and as a result we are seeing a strong wind turbine manufacturing presence in countries like Spain, Denmark, Germany and Norway.
“That is why Centa likes to get involved at the design stage, enabling us to offer all our technical expertise, helping our customers through this period and thus ensuring they need not look elsewhere for those skills – keeping the manufacturing process solely in the UK,” said Sykes.
Centa has been providing versatile and robust mechanical power transmissions for 33 years, and is using proven ‘old’ technology to help drive new and innovative systems, particularly in green energy.
Marine Current Turbines in Northern Ireland, for example, has had its system in place since 2008 and these have been producing electricity for the grid ever since. For this, Centa provided couplings for the original prototypes, with zero defects and no problems, and has helped extensively with prototyping and validation ever since.
Centa applications have also helped to create an underwater tidal power generation plant that combines many of its products in the design. Planetary gearboxes, Cyclo precision gears and special bevel gearboxes combine with electro-magnetic clutches, electrically insulating CENTALINK shafts, powerful disc brakes, specially designed ‘Centa Freewheels’ and electromagnetic clutches, to create a truly bespoke solution.
Sykes commented: “We find our strength is in the integration of innovative, high performance products, meaning we start with the initial design and then integrate the most suitable Centa products until we arrive at the optimum solution. The Freewheels are a new Centa innovation that stops the plant from reversing its rotation as the tides ebb and flow.”
The company has also worked with various suppliers to devise independent hybrid drives that enable buses to switch from diesel engines to non-polluting electric motors when moving within a city centre environment.
A further example of how Centa products have been adapted across various sectors is the CENTADISC-C, a very strong yet lightweight composite shaft that is predominantly used in ships and boats. This has now been employed in wind turbines, normally to connect the turbine speed increasing gearbox and the generator, but can also be installed between the turbine blade nacelle and the speed increasing gearbox.
Special three-way spiral bevel gears are used for pitch actuation, which ensures that the turbines point into the wind at all times for maximum benefit. A similar gear combination is also used in Tidal Turbines to ensure that the plant is maximising tidal direction, ebb and flow.
With the Government’s help, Centa and other manufacturers can start to adapt and develop their own product lines for the renewable energy sector, ensuring Britain can grow and lead innovation in the global manufacturing sector.
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