GE enters the offshore fray

1 June 2010

Recent reports from the USA refer to about 37 offshore wind projects that are ‘in the works’. Through its ScanWind purchase in September GE can become a major player in the emerging US offshore market, even though the initial focus is on the European sector, according to comments made by GE’s vice president of renewables, Victor Abate.

Abate explicitly referred to his company’s workhorse strategy, which is based upon producing large quantities of a limited range of products: ‘When we acquired Enron Wind in 2002, about 1000 1.5-MW turbines were operational. Today total numbers in operation worldwide exceed the 12 000 mark. The Arklow Bank offshore project served as a learning platform for us and we are excited about ScanWind direct drive technology in terms of proven reliability. At the moment availability of their turbines is already 96%–97%, achieved by operation under harsh Norwegian coastal conditions.’

‘Learning process’ is perhaps disingenuous. Immediately following that experience (seven 3.6 MW units at Arklow Bank off Ireland) GE dropped out of the offshore wind business altogether and seems also to have abandoned geared drives for offshore applications. Scanwind’s technology, critically, is gearless. According to the company, next year GE’s offshore turbine will be offered to the market, with first deliveries planned for 2012–2013.

Scanwind had developed a 3.5 MW WTG with a 90.6m rotor, direct drive and permanent magnet generators. Scanwind’s track record includes 15 installed WTGs onshore in a project in Norway developed by Nord-Trøndelag Elektrisitetsverk (NTE).

The acquisition is primarily technology driven. With Scanwind’s experience with direct drive technology, GE follows Siemens in pursuing a potential technology shift from conventional drive train towards direct drive.

GE’s only offshore experience to date is based on the seven 3.6 MW WTGs installed in 2003 in Ireland. GE is now expected to start marketing and quoting WTGs for the European offshore market by the end of 2010.

Hundhammerfjellet wind park

Scanwind’s first 3 MW wind turbine system was installed at the Hundhammerfjellet wind park, located 200 km North of Trondheim, in 2003. Hundhammerfjellet is on the west coast of mid-Norway, with severe wind and weather conditions. After testing for one year the demonstration system showed good results over the full wind range. The two models produced by ScanWind are the 3.0 MW 3000 DL and the 3.5 MW 3500 DL.

The 3 bladed 3.5 MW units have a swept area of 7854 m², a power density of 2.24 m²/kW, a wind speed range of 3.5 m/s to 27 m/s (nominal 13 m/s) and incorporate a Switch generator designed specifically for the harsh conditions found offshore.

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