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Low wind sector hots up as more manufacturers launch specialist turbines

EUROPE: Low-wind turbines were a hot topic for turbine manufacturers at the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) annual conference in Vienna, Austria, last month.

Specialised Delta: Nordex was among manufacturers launching turbines for forested areas
Specialised Delta: Nordex was among manufacturers launching turbines for forested areas

While much of the event focused on emerging markets in eastern Europe, many of the big manufacturers were using the occasion to target western Europe with turbines designed for low to medium wind speed conditions.

GE and Nordex presented new wind machines with larger rotors and higher towers for installation in forested areas. In doing so they continued a trend set in the latter half of last year when Vestas, Siemens and Repower launched similar turbines at the Husum trade fair in Germany. All of these new launches were also promoted at EWEA.

Developers now have plenty of choice, with manufacturers seemingly taking a "you've got to be in it to win it" approach. With some developers thinking that it is too early to fully commit to eastern Europe, western Europe's low-to-medium wind market could be one of the most competitive in the sector in the coming years.

Gamesa spoke about its upcoming 2.5MW platform, while GE launched a new version of its 2.5MW turbine with a 120-metre rotor and inbuilt battery storage, which the US company claims is 25% more efficient. Nordex launched its Delta turbine series, an upscaling of the German firm's existing 2.4/2.5MW N117 low-wind platform. The mainstay of this series is a 3MW model with 117-metre rotor diameter for medium wind IEC class IIA conditions.

Arguably, Nordex began its push on low wind at EWEA 2012 when it announced it was cancelling its 6MW offshore turbine in favour of developing the N117. Nordex CEO Jürgen Zeschky said that the sheer number of sites globally was the key reason his firm had further developed its low-wind offerings. "With low wind, we see that 50% of the sites across the world are [in this category]," he told Windpower Monthly at this year's show.

Gamesa marketing director Juan Diego Diaz added: "Everyone has the same focus. We're all targeting the 2.5MW sector and tall turbines. It's going to be a crowded segment, but it's the future, so we have to go for it."

Southern Germany, specifically Bavaria, is regarded as a key area for development. The state is currently being weaned off nuclear power and has few wind farms. Low wind turbines with tall towers, to allow for installation in wooded areas, could almost be purpose-built for the region.

Home advantage

However, the challenge for many companies is the dominance of Enercon, which has over 50% of the German market according to the latest figures from consultancy Deutsche Windguard. Vestas is second with less than half this share. GE's sales were so low it featured among the remaining 1.5% labelled "other".

While its competitors have been throwing their development budgets at offshore machines, Enercon has spent the last two and a half years quietly adding to its 3MW class II-III range of machines such as the E101. The latest model, the E115, will have a tip height of over 200-metres, the highest on the market.
There were few announcements of new offshore products. Siemens promoted its 4MW offshore turbine, a revamped version of the 3.6MW, while Areva announced a trial of an upgraded M5000.

Meanwhile, GE was lukewarm about its the 4.1MW offshore turbine, which has been trialled in Gothenburg harbour since 2011. Vic Abate, GE's vice-president for renewable energy, told Windpower Monthly there were no immediate plans to go into production.

Ongoing development

Looking forward to future technological developments in both onshore and offshore wind, Siemens chief technical officer Henrik Stiesdal said the focus would be on cutting costs. "Ten years ago I would not have guessed where the real game changers would be now," said Stiesdal. "We've done a lot on increasing the efficiency of the swept area, and we're not out of ideas on this. On the rest of the turbine there are still big steps to be made in robustness and simplification that will lead not only to cheaper machines but to lower service costs too."

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