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A workhorse for Europe on the way -- GE's rethink

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Tight component supply but also a shift in strategy is behind GE Energy's delay in bringing its next generation wind turbine technology to the market. Vic Abate, head of GE's wind division, says the American company has dropped earlier plans for three turbines in the 2 MW space and will instead pursue a strategy of perfecting one 2.5 MW unit under the 2.5xl label. Full production of the long awaited turbine begins in the second half of 2008.

The original plan for three turbine variations was partly driven by the company's purchase of Enron Wind in 2003, says Abate. "I think a little bit of the legacy of the acquisition was a multiple series of units in the multiple-megawatt space and we stepped back and looked at that strategy and said that's not what we want to do," says Abate.

Sales of the 1.5 MW turbine in Europe have now been dropped, leaving competitors wondering if the company has left the market altogether. But as Rainer Bröring, GE's wind energy supply chain leader in Europe, puts it, the 1.5 MW unit "is not competitive" in European markets. The 2.5 MW turbine will be the company's European workhorse.

"We've never left Europe, we're back in a bigger way," adds the company's Richard Reno, who recently relocated from the US to Germany to ramp up the company's 2.5 MW business. He points out that production of the 1.5 MW unit in Europe has never stopped. "It just so happens that many of those units wound up in other places that wanted the 1.5 more than Europe. With the 2.5, that has changed. In 2009 that's all we're going to produce in Europe."

GE will launch a machine backed by the same supply chain efficiencies achieved with the company's 1.5 MW unit, says Abate. Over 6000 of that turbine have been installed worldwide and it has been the company's workhorse for the US market. "One of the things we've learned with the 1.5 is that you want a focused product strategy. The last thing you want to do is have one turbine for everybody," says Abate. "The US market has helped teach the industry that economy of scale, quality, and predictability comes from a mass production approach of a common design."

Sold out

All volumes of the 2.5 MW turbine are sold out for Europe in 2008, although the company declines to say more about how many it will make next year. Production of the turbine, however, will double between 2007/2008 and double again between 2008/2009. With its choice of a permanent magnet generator, GE has optimised the 2.5 MW unit for efficient operation at low wind speeds; the machine is not designed for use in the windiest areas of Europe, such as in Scotland. Since last year's delay of 2 MW series, the design for the 2.5xl unit has been upgraded and it is now equipped with a 100 diameter rotor. Major components are coming from a variety of suppliers, says Bröring, including the permanent magnet generator and the gearbox. He declines to be more specific.

The largest order for the turbine so far is for a 135 MW project under development in Turkey, with installation of the turbines to begin in the spring (Windpower Monthly, September 2007). Further orders are lined up in Germany and Poland for 2008 and 2009 and components for those orders are already "all locked up" says Reno.

Globally, Abate says the company will be shipping 3000 units in 2008, up from the 2500 units shipped this year, mainly the 1.5 MW unit, for a total value of $4 billion. That number of units will increase by one-third the total of 6000 GE machines that Abate says are operating today.

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