Last month GE introduced a new model of wind turbine that is based on their extremely successful 1.5 MW unit (the 1.5 sle, which has a 77 meter rotor and (usually) an 80 meter tall tower). There are more than 10,000 of the GE 1.5 MW turbines installed in North America, which is about 30% of the US-Canada market. The new unit is their 1.6-100 - a turbine with a 100 meter rotor diameter and a 1.6 MW generator, incorporating a variable speed generator and their own "IGBT" variable frequency to 60 Hz converter. For example, here was one of the first announcements of this product, just in time for AWEA's annual convention/product exposition:
If you have been to one of the AWEA annual conferences, it is a bit of a giant sales pitch/show and tell/deal making session. Many of the main salespersons carry just about every form of personal communication device on them, and sometimes multiples ones of these, and they all look both confident and very hyper. There are many multi-million and multi-hundred million dollar deals made at these sessions, or right after them, when wind turbine farm developers and product vendors meet, compare prices/services/claims and try to do a deal. Sometimes these deals can be worth billions. And that's got to be some intense stress....
At their product launch, GE stated that they have about 500 MW of sales commitments for their new turbine, which, to them is about $1 billion in sales of just the turbine (and another $250 million would be needed to install them). So, not a bad day in sales.
Speaking of sales, here is the product brochure:
GE's entrance into the Low Wind Speed Turbines (LWST) market segment of commercial wind turbines follows several others, including Vestas (their V100 x 1.8 MW unit), RE Power (1.8 MW x 100 meter rotor diameter), Nordex (N117, a 2.4 MW x 117 meter rotor diameter), Siemens, and a few others. The LWST and the offshore segments are probably going to experience the greatest growth in the wind energy business for some time, and at the present, there are still a relatively few models/manufacturers of them compared to "regular" or fast speed ones.
A LWST is characterized by a power ratio of more than 4:1 (rotor area in square meters divided by the generator rating in kilowatts). The power ratios of the Vestas, Nordex and new GE models are 4.36, 4.48 and 4.91, respectively, while the "regular GE 1.5 sle has a power ratio of 3.10, which makes the "regular" model great for high wind speed locations but a poor performer in places where wind speeds are more average. By this measure, GE has the most "low wind speed friendly" unit on the market, at present. But who knows, maybe there will be a LWST technology race - it sure beats the arms race, after all.
About 13% of the land area of the US is well suited to "regular" models, while over 50% of the U.S. land area is more suitable for LWST units. So, potentially, this is a huge market. Furthermore, in most high population areas, wind speeds tend to be moderate, so the LWST are well targeted to where the electricity demand is located, which is different than the wind resource. In many cases, it makes more sense (is lower or equivalent cost) to install a LWST close to a load center (electricity consuming region) than it is to install mass quantities of high or medium wind speed units in a fast wind location (U.S. Great Plains, such as Montana or Wyoming, for example) and then also install one to two thousand miles of very expensive transmission line. Those lines can cost up to $3 million per mile, so this adds up...
Of course, it costs more to make a LWST with the same rating as a regular unit, and much of this is tied up in the blades and also the towers. Bigger blades mean stronger towers, even at the same heights used as a regular unit. And bigger blades weigh more, which means more of that expensive epoxy resin is required. Blade mass goes up at approximately the 2.5 power of the blade length, so the mass of a 48 meter blade is about twice that of a 36 meter blade. And mass is money.... In addition, taller towers are often used, which also means more money, and more mass per tower length for the bottom tower section. The GE 1.6-100 will probably cost about $4 million to buy and install, while the regular GE 1.5sl would cost about $3 million to buy and install. But, the benefit is greater energy production from a given wind speed.
The LWST era has come of age, and these units are especially appropriate for NY State and most of the inland regions of the Great Lakes region. One of the first large installations of these is going to be in central Michigan, just north of Lansing, where 300 MW of the Nordex N117 units are presently being installed (made in Arkansas). There have been several 50 to 100 MW V100 projects sales announced in the US (to be made in Colorado) in the last year, though none so far in NY. LWST are THE key technology needed to replace ALL pollution sourced electricity (coal, nukes, natural gas) in NY State, and will produce energy at lower costs than are possible than with offshore turbines (though using both, and offshore especially for Long Island) is the wise way to go).
Too bad there is no indication of a combined large sales/installation effort coupled to large scale manufacturing of these IN NY state. This could provide somewhere in the area of 100,000 manufacturing jobs for NY, providing there was a will to replace pollution sourced electricity generation that is often dangerous and risky (nukes), a major money bleed (coal and natural gas purchases from out of state) or just plain a big source of air and water pollution (Marcellus Shale gas, coal). And those jobs would be real wealth creating jobs, and difficult to outsource. Plus, since transporting 48 meter long blades, 50 ton tower sections and 50 to 100 ton nacelles long distances is costly, making them locally can save up to 10 to 15% on the installed cost.
For "community wind" applications (like the water/sewage plant in communities, or to provide some of the electricity for a town/school), these LWST units have a lot of potential. Or for projects where there is only room for one or a few turbines, these new wind turbines will produce far more energy than a comparable single /few units of "regular" wind turbines. Here is a graph that compares the average power output (kw-hr per year divided by 8766 average hours in a year) versus the wind speed for a GE-1.5 sle and a GE 1.6 x 100 m unit. If you've only got room for one, this is the way to go...
So, there's today's "room for improvement" idea.
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