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GE puts blades at the cutting edge

Another month, another major acquisition. GE has once again dipped into its seemingly bottomless pockets, this time to buy the world's biggest independent manufacturer of wind-turbine rotor blades, LM Wind Power.

The €1.5 billion deal follows last year's purchase of Alstom's power business for nearly €10 billion, which included a new offshore turbine with a healthy order book, and the takeover of Blade Dynamics, a technology firm specialising in modular blade construction. If GE was a big player before, it's now super-sized.

This latest acquisition poses a number of interesting questions for the wind industry. GE says LM will remain a standalone company, continuing to supply blades to other manufacturers.

But it is hard to imagine that GE will be anywhere other than first in the queue for research and development, design specification and order delivery. The close cooperation between LM and, say, Adwen, over the 88.4-metre blades for its new 8MW offshore turbine,may soon become a thing of the past.

Blade manufacture largely remains, a labour-intensive process. This creates challenges for production costs and quality control, but it has made the sector key to satisfying local content stipulations, providing jobs in emerging markets, and cutting the transport requirements of these ever larger components.

LM has no fewer than 14 production facilities in countries that include China, India, Brazil and Turkey.

But that model could be changing. Greater degrees of automation and the adoption of flexible manufacturing processes for blades may prove harder to achieve than the optimists envisage, but there is no doubt that they will be fundamental to cutting costs and improving quality.

It will be fascinating to see how GE combines Blade Dynamics' research in modular construction with LM's know-how and technical resources.

People in power

We write a great deal about industry and technology, finance and policy, hardware and software. We don't tend to write so much about the humans behind the headlines, innovations, and analysis.

This issue is where we try to redress that balance, with Windpower Monthly's staff and senior contributors making their choices of the industry's interesting and influential people.

While we would not claim it to be a fully comprehensive list of wind power's movers or shakers, it is clear the industry employs some very interesting people.

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