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Power Move: GE Signs First Contract For The World鈥檚 Most Powerful Offshore Wind Turbine In Operation

Tomas Kellner
September 21, 2020

 John Lavelle has seen many powerful machines during his nearly four decades as a GE engineer. But none measure up to the Haliade-X, the world鈥檚 most powerful offshore wind turbine in operation. The turbine set a world record earlier this year when it generated 288 megawatt-hours of electrical energy in a single day. That鈥檚 enough to power 30,000 homes in Rotterdam, where the first prototype is located.

Today the turbine hit another milestone: GE Renewable Energy signed the first contract for the powerful machine. Specifically, its Offshore Wind unit, where Lavelle now serves as CEO, will supply 190 Haliade-X 13 MW turbines for Dogger Bank A and Dogger Bank B, the first two phases of what will be the world鈥檚 largest offshore wind farm.

Located in the North Sea some 130 kilometers off the Yorkshire coast, Dogger Bank Wind Farm is a joint venture between SSE Renewables, which is building the wind farm, and Equinor, which will operate it. Scheduled for completion in 2026, the wind farm is projected to be capable of generating 3.6 gigawatts of electrical power 鈥 enough to supply 4.5 million U.K. households, and equal to approximately 5% of the U.K.鈥檚 estimated electricity generation.

When Lavelle took the helm of GE鈥檚 offshore wind unit in 2016, the Haliade-X barely existed as a computer drawing. Back then, Lavelle, as well as GE, were relative newcomers to the offshore industry. The company was, at that time, making an offshore wind turbine that generated 6 megawatts, half the output of the Haliade-X. 鈥淚 was not a wind turbine expert coming in. But I knew that we needed to make a very considerable investment to come up with a technology that not only differentiated GE in the marketplace, but was helpful to the overall offshore wind industry, could reduce the cost of electricity and could make it a sustainable industry for years to come,鈥 Lavelle says.

The team leveraged GE鈥檚 deep expertise in onshore wind, as well as in power generation, aviation and other industries. 鈥淭he one thing I learned in my career is never doubt the capability of GE's engineering talent, regardless of the technology,鈥 Lavelle says. 鈥淭hese things never go off as smoothly as the external world thinks. There's always the thrill of the minute and challenges, and it's that ability to overcome the challenges you face on your journey that separates the winners from the wannabes.鈥

GE鈥檚 Vincent Schellings, a wind industry veteran who leads the development of the Haliade-X, says the project is unlike anything he鈥檇 encountered in his career. The machine is so powerful 鈥 the blades, built by GE Renewable Energy subsidiary LM Wind Power, measure 107 meters each 鈥 that 鈥渋n many cases, we actually also had to figure out how we were going to build the components, how we were going to ship the components, how we were going to assemble them,鈥 Schellings says. 鈥淪o it was more than just the engineering of the product. It was really also the engineering of the whole supply chain and that was a lot more labor-intensive than I thought it would be.鈥

But the effort paid off. The first prototype of the Haliade-X started generating electricity last fall in the Port of Rotterdam. In December 2019, Time magazine selected the turbine as one of the best inventions of the year.

The speed with which the team was able to race ahead also caught the industry鈥檚 attention. 鈥淭he difference between announcing a machine and then building a prototype is a massive first step; it becomes real,鈥 Lavelle says. 鈥淎nd then when it operates well, it gains credibility. So I would say we had very good market reception when we announced it but it was, 鈥楢ll right, prove it to me. Are you going to stick with this?鈥 That was a question mark that was out there. And then when the prototype came up, the market said, 鈥榃ow, they can do it.鈥欌

The working prototype enabled GE to take giant leaps forward for customers in several important ways, Lavelle says. 鈥淲hen you think through everything we learned to develop a 12-megawatt turbine of this size, we鈥檝e got several years of learning that will benefit our customers,鈥 he says. 鈥淲e've got two years of making a machine of this magnitude and running it for a full year of prototype testing. Everything we鈥檝e learned over that time frame puts us in an even better position to deliver for customers.鈥

Rotterdam port

 

But the working prototype and the accolades it received earlier this year notwithstanding, the team wasn鈥檛 finished. The next step involved a review of the turbine by an accredited lab, a process called a type certification. The two-level task entails an assessment of the full prototype as well as the turbine鈥檚 components, including a review of the design, testing regimen and manufacturing process.

In June, DNV GL, an independent global certification body based in Norway, issued GE a provisional type certification that validates that the machine meets the highest safety and quality standards. GE expects to receive the full certificate later this year. 鈥淭here's a lot of proof points that our team has had to work through to get customers to not only like what they see economically on paper but feel comfortable enough to place their trust in our team to say, 鈥業鈥檓 willing to sign a contract,鈥欌 Lavelle says. 鈥淭hey now depend on us to execute for them to be successful.鈥

Haliade Blade

 

All the checking and testing of the prototype also revealed that the turbine can outperform its original goals. GE designed the first Haliade-X to generate 12 megawatts but the machines bound for Dogger Bank will produce 13 megawatts. 鈥淎t some point during the design process, we asked ourselves, 鈥楬ow can we make Dogger Bank more competitive?鈥欌 Schellings says. The team realized that given the wind farm鈥檚 northerly location, lower ambient temperatures would allow them to run the generator at higher power without overheating. 鈥淭he entire development really has been kind of a journey for us,鈥 Schellings says. 鈥淥n one side, we were figuring out how to develop it. On the other side, we were trying to figure out how to maximize the capability of the design that we had.鈥

That voyage isn鈥檛 finished. Lavelle, Schellings and the team now think of the Haliade-X as a platform, where they can increase its output without starting from scratch on a new design. 鈥淭he beauty of the process is that once you get through it, you also fully understand what it takes to make this kind of stuff happen,鈥 Schellings says. 鈥淵ou better understand the limitations of supply chain, the limitations of materials, all these kinds of things which actually help us to better understand how we can transition with the next steps on the Haliade-X journey.鈥

Lavelle says the working machine gave GE 鈥渁 strategic road map to have a sustainable competitive advantage in the offshore wind industry. That's our goal. I never want to be caught short.鈥

These are powerful words, considering that the International Energy Agency has projected that global offshore wind capacity may increase 15-fold by 2040, attracting around $1 trillion of cumulative investment. GE has been selected for preferred supplier status for 5 gigawatts of offshore wind projects around the world, including two in the U.S. in addition to Dogger Bank.

But for now, Lavelle says the Haliade-X will have an important role to play in the U.K., which has set a goal of installing 40 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. That鈥檚 in addition to supporting the British government鈥檚 push to reduce greenhouse emissions to 鈥渘et-zero鈥 by 2050. 鈥淒ogger Bank is a fantastic opportunity for GE to get entrenched in what is the world's biggest offshore wind market today,鈥 Lavelle says. 鈥淔or us to be there, to develop an employee, operational, as well as a great customer base there, is really important.鈥

Says Lavelle: 鈥淗aving a sustained competitive advantage with technology, and executing well with safety and quality, you're going to have a great business. And the team that started this thing will be proud for a long time.鈥

Rotterdam at night

Haliade X graphic

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