The wind turbines rotate over a strip of land at the mouth of the port of Rotterdam, which is too large to photograph. The turning radius of his rotor is longer than two American football fields from end to end. Later models would be taller than any building on mainland Western Europe.
The Netherlands’ giant spinning machine, packed with sensors that collect data about wind speeds, electricity output and pressures on its components, is a test model for a new series of giant offshore wind turbines planned by General Electric. When assembled into arrays, wind machines have the potential to power cities, replacing the coal or natural gas-fired plants that form the backbone of many electrical systems today.
GE has yet to install one of these devices in ocean waters. As a relatively newcomer to the offshore wind business, the company faces questions about how quickly and efficiently it can increase production to build and install hundreds of turbines.
But giant turbines have already caught the eye in the industry. A senior executive at the world’s leading wind farm developer described it as “somewhat of a leap over the latest technology.” One analyst said the size of the machine and its advanced sales had “disrupted the industry”.
The prototype is the first in a generation of new machines, about a third more powerful than the largest in commercial service already. As such, it shifts the business accounts of wind equipment makers, developers, and investors.
General Electric’s machines will have generating power that you would not have imagined a decade ago. One would be able to generate 13 megawatts of power, enough to light a town of around 12,000 homes.
The turbine, capable of producing as much thrust as the four engines of a Boeing 747, will be deployed at sea, as developers have learned that they can plant larger and more numerous turbines than those on land to catch the breeze. Stronger and more reliable.
The race has moved to build larger turbines faster than many industrialists had anticipated. The Haliade-X from General Electric generates nearly 30 times more electricity than the first marine machines installed off Denmark in 1991.
Industry executives say that in the coming years, customers will likely order bigger machines. On the other hand, they totally expect it Commercial aircraft has reached its peak with the Airbus A380, The turbines will reach a point where greater volume no longer makes economic sense.
“We’ll also reach a plateau. We don’t know where it is yet,” said Morten Pilegaard Rasmussen, head of technology in the offshore wind unit at Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, a leader in the offshore turbine industry.
Although offshore turbines now account for only about 5 percent of the total generating capacity of the wind industry, this segment of the business has taken on an identity of its own and is expected to grow faster in the coming years than on-ground winds.
Marine technology has stabilized in northern Europe in the past three decades, and is now spreading to the east coast of the United States as well as Asia, including Taiwan, China and South Korea. The mega-projects costing billions of dollars available at sea are attracting large investors, including oil companies such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell, who want to quickly boost their green energy offerings. Capital investment in offshore wind has more than tripled over the past decade to $ 26 billion, according to the International Energy Agency, the Paris-based forecasting group.
General Electric began making a breakthrough in wind power in 2002 when it bought the Enron’s ground-turbine business – a successful unit in a company that was brought down in Amazing accounting scandal – In a bankruptcy auction. It was a marginal force in the offshore industry when its executives decided to try to break it nearly four years ago. They have seen a growing market with only two serious western competitors.
However, GE chiefs believed that to become pioneers in the more challenging marine environment, they must be bold. They set out to double the size of their existing marine equipment, which came to GE Through its acquisition of the energy business of France’s Alstom In 2015. The idea was to achieve leadership in major competitors such as Siemens Gamesa and Vestas Wind Systems, the Danish turbine maker.
A larger turbine produces more electricity and, therefore, more revenue than a smaller machine. The size also helps reduce the costs of building and maintaining a wind farm because fewer turbines are required to produce a certain amount of power.
These qualities create a strong incentive for developers to go to the largest machine available to aid their efforts to win auctions for offshore power supply deals that have been approved by many countries. These auctions vary in appearance, but the developers compete to provide strength over a number of years at the lowest price.
“What they’re looking for are turbines that allow them to win these auctions,” said Vincent Schellings, who headed the design and production of General Electric’s turbines. “This is where the size of the turbine plays a very important role.”
One of the first clients was Orsted, a Danish company that is the largest developer of offshore wind farms in the world. It has an initial agreement to purchase about 90 Haliade-X machines for a project called Ocean Wind off Atlantic City, NJ
“I think they surprised everyone when they came out with this machine,” said David Hardy, Orsted’s chief overseas business in North America.
Mr. Hardy, as a huge buyer of turbines, said to help “create this new platform and create some volume for GE” so as to foster competition and innovation.
Analysts say General Electric’s turbine sales are better than its competitors have expected.
On December 1, GE reached another tentative agreement to supply turbines Vineyard Wind, a large wind farm off Massachusetts, It has deals to supply 276 turbines for what is likely to be the world’s largest wind farm at Dogger Bank, off Britain.
These deals, with accompanying maintenance contracts, could add up to $ 13 billion, estimates Shashi Parla, lead wind analyst at Wood Mackenzie, a market research firm.
The waves generated by the GE machine prompted Siemens Gamesa to announce a series of competing turbines. Vestas, which until recently had the largest machine in the industry in its stable, is also expected to reveal a new entry soon.
“We didn’t act like the first person, and that of course we should talk about it today,” said Henrik Andersen, CEO of Vestas.
To accomplish this maneuver, Mr. Schillings said, GE had to start “almost from scratch.” The business unit called GE Renewable Energy is spending about $ 400 million designing, hiring engineers and retooling factories in Saint-Nazaire and Cherbourg, France.
To create a blade of this exceptional length that does not deviate from its weight, GE invited the designers at LM Wind Power, a blade manufacturer in Denmark that the company bought in 2016 for $ 1.7 billion. Among their innovations: a material that combines carbon fiber and fiberglass that is lightweight yet strong and flexible.
GE still has to work out how to efficiently manufacture large numbers of machines, initially in factories in France, and possibly later in Britain and the United States. With a proven track record at sea, GE also needs to demonstrate its ability to reliably install and maintain large machinery at sea, using specialized vessels and handling severe weather.
“General Electric has to prove a lot to asset owners in order to be able to purchase GE turbines,” said Mr. Parla.
Producing larger machines has been easier and cheaper for Siemens Gamesa, GE’s main competitor, which is already building a prototype of a new and more powerful machine at its offshore complex in Brandy in Denmark. Jutland Peninsula. The secret: The new, larger-than-ever models have not moved away from a decade-old model.
“The fundamentals of the machine and how it works remain the same,” said Mr. Rasmussen, the unit’s chief technology officer, resulting in a “slightly better starting point” than that of GE.
There seems to be plenty of room for competition. John Lavell, chief executive of overseas business for General Electric, said the outlook for the market was “increasing every year”.