Many people have asked me this week “Were you surprised by Siemens Gamesa’s announcement of the launch of their 14MW offshore turbine?” This question brings to mind the visuals used regularly on the conference circuit showing the evolution of turbine size and they generally include a line of bigger and bigger turbines, together with a picture of the London Eye, the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the Gherkin, a Boeing 747 or a combination of all of the above. But it got me thinking about my personal journey with wind turbines.
The first offshore wind project I ever worked on was the FID case for West of Duddon Sands (WoDS) in my days with ScottishPower Renewables. WoDS consists of 108 x Siemens SWT-3.6-120 turbines with hub heights of 90m and tip height of 150m. I was fortunate to visit Belfast Harbour during the installation campaign and see first-hand the sheer scale of the towers, the nacelles, the blades, the monopiles and transition pieces. I had never felt so small.
Next on the business case list was Wikinger in the German Baltic Sea, followed by East Anglia One and St Brieuc in France. All of a sudden, the procurement teams were faced with a menu of turbine models up to 7MW and rotor diameter up to 164m. For the turbine package managers, who had all been in a heightened state of excitement since 2011 when Vestas unveiled the V164-7MW model (“whose blades are each as long as nine London city buses”), this was not big news but for those of us less in the know, it seemed like a step-change.
All of this made life much more complex for humble valuation modellers like myself. Fortunately, this was of no concern to the turbine manufacturers and project developers with an insatiable appetite to drive down the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) as far and as fast as possible.
After running hundreds of multi-parameter project scenarios, started by me and taken up by others since, Wikinger deployed 70 x Adwen AD5-135 turbines; East Anglia One has just completed installation of 102 x Siemens SWT-7.0-154; and, after a few twists and turns, St Brieuc will use 62 x Siemens Gamesa SG 8.0-167 DD.
Since moving to the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult just over 6 years ago (!) and being exposed to more of an industry-level view, there have been a number of milestones which are linked in some way to evolutions in turbine rating.
In 2014, in a European market dominated by Siemens, Vestas won the order for 32 x Vestas V164-8MW turbines (up-rated from the 7MW model) for Burbo Bank Extension. They had managed to squeeze 8MW out of the 7MW model without any increase in rotor diameter and things were starting to look interesting.
There has not been a dull year (or month!) in offshore wind in my experience, but the next turbine-related news which really grabbed my attention was during the award in April 2017 of 1,380MW-worth of subsidy-free contracts to be installed in Germany in 2024-2025. One of the key cost reduction drivers quoted by senior executives of the winning bidders was yes, you guessed it, the expectation of 14-15MW turbines being commercially available in the mid-2020’s. Sound familiar?
Then in September 2018, MHI Vestas announced a further 25% up-rating of the V164 platform to 10MW, hitting double digits for the first time. Cool, I thought. Perhaps no surprise when, in January 2019, Siemens Gamesa launched the 10MW SG 10.0-193 DD. So we had MHI Vestas achieving 10MW with the same 164m rotor dimeter first designed for 7MW; Siemens Gamesa achieving the same rating with a rotor of 193m – an increase in swept area of roughly 40% compared to its rival, which suggested, to me at least, that the limit had been reached for the V164 platform but the 193DD was the start of something bigger.
In parallel, of course, GE had unveiled its flagship Haliade-X 12MW platform – the world’s largest, a giant. With 107m blades (220m rotor), 150m hub height and 260m tip height, each individual turbine will power 16,000 homes. At ORE Catapult, we are extremely proud to be testing the mighty 12MW nacelle, not to mention the 107m blade, at our state of the art test facilities in Blyth, and my Test and Validation colleagues will testify that these are impressive pieces of kit. Like me at Belfast Harbour back in 2011, some of these colleagues are starting to feel rather small.
So, fast-forward to May 2020. In a year which has already held many surprises, is the announcement of a 14MW (or is it 15MW?) turbine a surprise? No. It is, as Siemens Gamesa themselves say, an evolution of a proven platform. It is just another step on an unstoppable journey for an industry which continues to deliver on technology innovation and cost reduction.
Give us some examples, you say. OK. In the 2011 UK Renewable Energy Roadmap, the target was set for UK offshore wind to achieve LCOE of £100/MWh by 2020 and this seemed an extremely tough task – but the target was measured as having been hit in 2016, four years early; in 2016, the bosses of Europe’s top energy companies pledged in writing to reduce the LCOE of offshore wind to below €80/MWh by 2025 and that certainly sounded bullish – subsidy-free awards in Germany in 2017 and £40/MWh strike prices awarded in the 2019 UK auction suggest this target has also been somewhat overshot.
UK offshore wind should not be under-estimated. Siemens Gamesa can reach 15MW using design evolution and there is no doubt more in the pipeline from other OEM’s. The question remains of just how large turbines will grow and it will be a combination of economics and engineering which decides whether there is a limit or merely an increased need for the different innovations in materials, manufacturing and installation we need to unlock and combine.
Here at ORE Catapult we are well and truly getting our teeth into the requirements and UK potential for 20MW turbines and you can hear all about this in our Supersize Me podcast. You can also see some great examples of innovative UK companies making an impact on the wider industry here. In hugely uncertain times, whatever your involvement in this industry and your expectations for its future turbine ratings and LCOE trajectory, the only thing I can say with any certainty is that you are likely to have underestimated it!
And the visual for my perspective on turbine growth?