A wind turbine winding above a strip of land at the mouth of the port of Rotterdam is difficult to photograph. The turning diameter of its rotor is longer than the end of two American football fields. Later models would be taller than any building on the mainland of Western Europe.
Packed with sensors that emphasize wind speed, power generation, and its components, the giant whirling machine in the Netherlands is a test model for a new series of giant offshore wind turbines planned by General Electric. When assembled in arrays, wind machines have the capacity to power cities, suppressing the emission-spewing coal- or natural gas-based plants that form the backbone of many electrical systems today.
GE has yet to install one of these machines in sea water. As a newcomer to the offshore wind business, the company faces questions about how quickly and efficiently it can produce to manufacture and install hundreds of turbines.
But already giant turbines have taken a head turn in the industry. A top executive at the world’s leading wind farm developer called it “a bit of a leap on the latest technology”. And one analyst said the machine’s size and upfront sales “shook the industry.”
The prototype is the first generation of new machines that are already more than a third powerful in commercial service. As such, it is changing the business count of wind equipment manufacturers, developers and investors.
GE machines will have a production capacity that would have been almost unimaginable a decade ago. A single 13 MW will be able to turn on electricity to illuminate a city of about 12,000 homes.
The turbine, which is capable of producing as much thrust as the four engines of the Boeing 747 jet, will be deployed at sea, according to GE, where developers have learned that to capture the creeper they are larger than the ground and Can install more turbines. It is stronger and more reliable.
The race to build large turbines has progressed faster than many industry figures. GE’s Holiday-X generates about 30 times more electricity than the first offshore machines installed from Denmark in 1991.
Industry officials say that customers are expected to demand even bigger machines in the coming years. On the other hand, they predict that, just as Commercial aircraft were at peak with Airbus A380, Turbines will reach a point where greater size is no longer economically understandable.
“We too will reach a plateau; We just don’t know where it is yet, ”said Morton Pilgard Rasmussen, chief technology officer of Siemens Games Renewable Energy’s offshore wind unit, a leading manufacturer of offshore turbines.
Although the offshore turbine now accounts for about 5 percent of the overall wind industry’s production capacity, this part of the business is based on an identity of its own and is expected to grow faster than land-based wind in the coming years.
Offshore technology has gained momentum in northern Europe over the last three decades and is now expanding to the east coast of the United States, which includes Taiwan, China, and South Korea. Large-scale projects that cost billions of dollars at sea are attracting large investors, including oil companies such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell, who want to quickly scale up their green energy offerings. According to the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based forecasting group, capital investment in offshore wind has exceeded $ 26 billion over the past decade.
GE began to encroach on wind energy in 2002 when it purchased Enron’s land-based turbine business – a successful entity in a company Great Accounting Scam – In a bankruptcy auction. It was a frontier force in the offshore industry when its officials decided to try to crack it about four years ago. He saw a growing market with only a couple of serious Western competitors.
Nevertheless, GE’s owners thought that to become a leader in more challenging marine environments, they needed to be adventurous. They went on to exceed double the size of their current offshore machine, which came for GE Through the acquisition of Alstom’s electricity business in France , In 2015, the idea was to gain an edge over major competitors such as Siemens Games and Vestas Wind Systems, a Danish-based turbine manufacturer.
A larger turbine produces more electricity and, thus, generates more revenue than a smaller machine. The shape also helps reduce the cost of construction and maintenance of a wind farm because fewer turbines are required to produce a certain amount of electricity.
These properties create a powerful incentive for developers to assist them in their efforts to win auctions for offshore power supply deals to go for the largest machine available that many countries have adopted. These vary in auction format, but developers compete to provide power for many years at the lowest price.
“What they are looking at is a turbine that allows them to win these auctions,” Vincent Shillings, who has led the design and production of the GE turbine. “This is where the size of the turbine plays a very important role.”
Early customers include Orsted, a Danish company that is the world’s largest developer of offshore wind farms. There is an initial agreement to purchase about 90 Holiday-X machines from Atlantic City, NJ for a project called Ocean Wind
“I think they surprised everyone when they came out with that machine,” said David Hardy, chief executive of Orsted’s offshore business in North America.
As a major buyer of the turbine, Orsted “wants to help set up this new platform and create some volume for GE” to foster competition and innovation, Mr. Hardy said.
Analysts say the GE turbine is selling better than expected from its rivals.
On 1 December, another preliminary agreement was reached to provide turbines for GE Vineyard Wind, a large wind farm away from Massachusetts, And it is to supply 276 turbines to what is likely to be the world’s largest wind farm in Britain’s Dogar Bank.
These contracts could add up to $ 13 billion, along with maintenance contracts, estimated by wind analyst Shashi Barala, head of market research firm Wood McKenzie.
The waves created by the GE machine have prompted Siemens Gamesa to announce a series of competitive turbines. The Vestas, which until some time ago was the industry’s largest machine, is also expected to be stable, a new entry will be unveiled soon.
“We did not move as the first one, and we have to address today,” said Vestus chief executive Henrik Anderson.
To pull its gambler, GE had to start “too much from scratch”, Mr. Shillings said. A business unit called GE Renewable Energy is spending nearly $ 400 million on designing engineers and retired factories in St. Nazaire and Cherbourg in France.
To create a blade of such extraordinary length that does not buckle with its own weight, GE called the designers at LM Wind Power, a blade manufacturer in Denmark, which the company bought in 2016 for $ 1.7 billion. Among his innovations: materials that combine carbon fiber and glass fiber yet are strong and flexible.
GE will still have to work out how to efficiently manufacture a large number of machines, initially in France and later, in Britain and the United States. With a stingy offshore track record, GE will also have to demonstrate that it can reliably install and maintain large machines at sea using specialized ships and to deal with rough weather.
“GE has a lot to prove to asset owners for the purchase of GE turbines,” Mr Barala said.
It has become easier and cheaper to bring larger machines to the Siemens games, GE’s major rival, who are already building a prototype for a new and more powerful machine at their offshore complex in Brande, Denmark. Jutland Peninsula. The secret: The company’s never-ending new models stray away from a decade-old template.
“The basic principles of the machine and how it works remain the same,” said the unit’s chief technology officer, Mr. Rasmussen, “a starting point that was slightly better” than GE.
There seems to be a lot of room for competition. GE’s offshore business chief executive John LaValle said the outlook for the market “gets bigger each year.”