Question of the Week: GE and Alstom on R&D spending

This week we asked GE general manager of wind products Keith Longtin and Alstom senior vice president Yves Rannou what is needed to help make that final push and lower the levelised cost of energy.

Fraunhofer's blade testing facility
Fraunhofer's blade testing facility

Question: What needs to be done to encourage companies to further invest in R&D?

Keith Longtin, general manager of wind products, GE Renewable Energy

Grid parity for wind energy will only be achieved through continued investment in technology.

Advanced technology results in higher yields and better capacity factors across the industry, in turn driving down the cost of electricity.

Grid parity definitions depend on many things: the location, the cost of electricity and the types of generation on the grid. The question of grid parity — where are we, where are we going? — depends on where you are in the world.

Today, Brazil has already achieved grid parity. As an industry, we are on track to achieve grid parity in many countries, sooner rather than later.

The question then becomes: now what? What are we going to do over the next five years?

Through continued investment in technology, capacity factors will continue to improve. On the hardware side, this means scaling upward through cost-effective taller towers and larger rotors. On the software side, we will continue to enhance turbine controls and harness big data.

This is where the value of GE's brilliant wind turbines is so important. Harnessing the power of the industrial internet will help drive our industry to achieve subsidy-free, predictable, competitive power.

This is where the future of wind can be found, and where companies should look for it.

Yves Rannou, senior vice president, Alstom Renewable Power

Wind is rapidly scalable and well-proven technology and a readily available resource across most markets. The combination of these two factors, plus regulatory support for wind power in most markets, has contributed to make the wind market increasingly cost-competitive.

Currently, onshore wind is the most competitive technology compared with other renewable energy sources and, considering CO2 cost, is closing the gap with CCGT and coal.

Wind turbine providers are working to improve their cost in an effort to cope with lower pricing power. Ultimately, this means that all research activities, aside from other implementation measures, should be focused on the reduction to the cost of energy coming from wind power, and especially offshore wind. The industry is taking two parallel pathways towards cost reductions:

Incremental innovation: cost reduction through economies of scale resulting from increased market volumes of mainstream products, with a continuous improvement of the manufacturing and installation methods, processes and products.

Breakthrough innovation: creation of innovative products, including significantly bigger turbines, to be considered as new products. This includes evolutionary design practices and value engineering activities pushing the three main vectors that dominate wind turbine cost of energy:

· New technologies to improve the energy yield

· New technologies and materials to reduce weight

· New technologies to improve the reliability of systems and components

In both cases, the clear and robust involvement and partnership with suppliers, transport and installation industry (especially in offshore) in the early stages of the conceptual design process is, and will play a crucial role in the consecution of these targets and evolution of the wind industry.

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