* Project has secured $7.3 mln in public funding
* Sector races to build ever bigger turbines
* GRAPHIC-Giant wind turbines: tmsnrt.rs/2rr299K (Adds context on turbines, industry growth)
By Stine Jacobsen
HELSINKI, June 28 (Reuters) - Danish wind turbine maker Vestas and offshore services firm Maersk Supply Service are teaming up to tackle the cost of transporting and installing ever larger wind turbines.
Seeking to remain profitable as European countries phase out subsidies, the industry is turning to ever bigger turbines to harness power more efficiently and respond to pricing pressure for new equipment around the globe.
Vestas and fellow Danish company Maersk Supply Service, part of A.P. Moller-Maersk, said on Thursday the initial focus of the partnership would be on developing a new crane to manoeuvre and install mainly onshore but also offshore wind turbines, some of which stand taller than skyscrapers.
"The challenge for the industry is that installation and logistics around the turbines become a greater share of the costs," Bo Svoldgaard, Vestas' head of innovation and concepts, told Reuters.
The crane will be developed with MHI Vestas, an offshore wind joint venture between Vestas and Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Vestas said, adding that it has received 47 million Danish crowns ($7.3 million) in public funding.
Investment in new European wind farms and equipment is forecast to rise 4 percent to 23.2 billion euros ($26.8 billion) this year, according to WindEurope, after a shift to competitive tender-based auctions led to a 19-percent decline last year.
Last year, MHI Vestas launched a 9.5 megawatts (MW) offshore turbine, currently the world's most powerful wind turbine, but bigger ones are expected in the future as their efficiency increases with size.
General Electric, the world's fourth-largest wind turbine maker, is working to develop a 12 MW turbine that will stand 260 metres (853 feet) tall.
For Maersk Supply Service, the partnership could open up new revenue streams outside the struggling oil service industry at a time when the business is up for sale as part of Maersk's transformation from conglomerate to a focused shipping firm.
A prototype of the crane is expected in the fourth quarter next year, with production starting in two to three years, Svoldgaard said.
Both companies declined to comment on the size of investment into the new partnership. ($1 = 0.8669 euros) ($1 = 6.4489 Danish crowns)
Additional reporting by Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt Editing by Mark Potter/Keith Weir