The first design is a ‘work-around’ for the main shaft bearings of the flagship Haliade-X offshore wind turbine that GE said does not infringe the intellectual property of Siemens Gamesa.
After a trial in June at the US District Court in Massachusetts, a jury found that the Haliade-X infringes Siemens Gamesa's patent no 9,279,413 — the ‘413 —for an offshore direct-drive turbine’s structural support mechanism, and the physical and structural arrangement of the main shaft bearings.
In a dramatic and rare move, the court also imposed a permanent injunction on the Haliade X in the US.
Haliade-X-ii and Haliade-X-iii
In its filing, GE’s work-around, the Haliade-X-ii, lacks a bearing within the interior of a rotor hub’s hollow shell, according to GE court documents filed with the US District Court in Boston on 17 October.
Specifically, the bearing is outside of the interior of the rotor hub’s hollow shell - a design that GE said in its filing is “prior art”. Prior art cannot be patented, according to intellectual property law.
The second design - the Haliade-X-iii – is for a next-generation of Haliade-X turbines and it also avoids the patented technology, said GE.
The US conglomerate says that its new designs have “neither an annular member that protrudes into the interior defined by a hollow shell of a rotor hub nor a bearing in that interior”.
GE said it will make both the Haliade-X-ii and the Haliade-X-iii available to customers developing offshore wind farms in the United States.
It asked the court to amend the permanent injunction on the Haliade-X to specify that GE’s Haliade-X-ii and Haliade-X-iii designs do not infringe Siemens Gamesa's patented IP.
Analysts react: ‘GE may win this one’
Shashi Barla, head of renewables research at the Brinckmann Group, said: “This [work-around] was not unexpected. It was an obvious near-term solution. I would expect that GE might offer this as a commercial solution within six months.
However, GE must accelerate the next-generation technology commercial announcement within the next 12 months for them to garner a share in Europe and the US.”
Phil Totaro of IntelStor said of GE’s new designs: “The design and bearing architecture are different than how the Siemens Gamesa patent is worded, so while Siemens Gamesa is likely to raise a ceremonial objection, GE may be able to win this one.”
In Siemens Gamesa's patented technology, the main bearing is closer to the blades and closer to the centre of mass, thereby reducing the load on that bearing, Siemens Gamesa expert, Dr Timothy Morse, testified during the trial.
In court documents filed in 2021, Siemens Gamesa said this allows the turbine to be larger and, or handle increased loads and thus produce more energy.
‘$2bn in lost sales’
Asked whether the work-around will be as efficient as the original Haliade-X, Barla, a former engineer, said: “The [re-designed] turbine is itself not inefficient.”
But he said that when the Haliade-X 12 to 14MW is compared with rival technologies, like the Siemens Gamesa SG 14-236 DD or Vestas V236-15MW, it will produce lower energy.
Asked about the impact on GE’s business, and whether customers may be reluctant to sign onto GE’s new technology, Barla said: “The timing will result in a lower market share for GE in the near term. The switch in design for the existing Haliade-X will not be very significant for GE. Probably sub $50-100 million.
“However, the indirect impact will be much larger, if they lose a few projects, which will result in lost sales opportunities of upwards of $2 billion.
“Customers may be a bit prudent in signing GE Haliade-X even with the modified configuration.”
Totaro added: “While GE may have developed some design drawings, etc. for the Haliade-Xii and Haliade-Xiii turbine and bearing architecture years ago, they chose the design for the original Haliade-X based on the design which was optimal on cost, loads, complexity of the design, whether it was maintenance friendly, etc.
“These alternative designs may significantly change the performance, operational characteristics as well as the longevity of the turbine. They are likely to have to design a more “beefy” turbine with a sub-optimal bearing architecture that may cause more wear and tear to the turbine over time compared to the original design.
“This could introduce extra maintenance cost for the owners and operators of the Haliade-Xii or Haliade-Xiii turbines.”
However, commenting on the workaround version, Barla countered: "GE will ensure that it will be on par or better in energy yield compared to the original."
Totaro noted that the new designs will have to be certified by an independent certifying body such as DNV, which could take six to nine months; and that the need to source new bearings will increase their supply chain costs.
New manufacturing tooling will also have to be designed and installed, according to Totaro “This is also a cost which must be amortized across their entire fleet of Haliade-X turbines,” he said.
And service and repair costs are also likely to increase, albeit modestly, due to the complexity of having two separate turbine designs instead of just one, he said.
GE declined to comment on the analysts claims about the comparative energy its new Haliade-X models could produce.
Judge William Young ruled that GE must pay Siemens Gamesa an unprecedented $30,000/MW royalty fee for Haliade-X turbines installed at Vineyard Wind 1 off Massachusetts. The project is ‘carved out’ and is thus not subject to the injunction.
The court is considering “an appropriate exemplary royalty rate” for Haliade-Xs installed at Ocean Wind 1 off New Jersey, which is also carved out.
A court hearing on the carve-out is expected this week.
First power is expected from Vineyard I, developed by Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, in 2023 with full commissioning in 2024. Ocean Wind 1, developed by Ørsted and the US utility PSEG, is due online in 2025.
Siemens Gamesa had not responded to a request for comment on the court filings at the time of publication.