The scale-up to supersize machines that a decade ago seemed almost unimaginable has been at the heart of the industry’s transformative efforts to slash cost and speed into the energy mainstream. But there is a growing chorus that this Olympian drive for ever-larger machines is stretching OEMs to the breaking point and creating wider risks to the worldwide build-out – and should spur a rethink of 20MW – and mightier – models
Global wind OEM Vestas announced last week that its 15MW V236 offshore wind turbine prototype at the Østerild test site had achieved a new record for the highest output in a single day, churning out 363MWh inside a 24-hour window. This overtakes the previous industry best, set in October by Siemens Gamesa’s 14MW SG14-222DD (359MWh/day), also erected at Østerild, and before that GE’s 13MW Haliade-X, which in 2020 broke the 300MWh threshold for the first time, recording 312MWh of output in a single day at the Dutch Port of Rotterdam.
Doubtless, production records from Western OEM-built turbines will continue to tumble – Siemens Gamesa’s top-of-the-line SG14-236, which can be uprated to 15MW, is already up and running at the Danish test facility. But these machines will not be taking home the laurels for daily output in the coming years, of course, with the biggest-rotored units on the planet now turning off China.
In the waters off Guangdong in Southern China, MingYang Smart Energy’s 16MW model was commissioned in July and compatriot Goldwind, working with developer China Three Gorges, has switched on its same-size GWH252 off the coast of Fujian.
Though not much is known about the performance of these Chinese turbines, based on their nameplates the industry already has units at sea that are capable of producing a mind-bending 400MWh a day. And with other still larger models from Sino-OEMs – most recently CSSC Haizhuang with its 18MW H260 – heading out, the upward trajectory of this trend appears to be continuing.
Western OEMs are chanting that they do not want and cannot afford a race to the bottom on LCOE in developing these next-generation supersize models – and looking at financial results across the sector from the past years, the view is dire, with even Chinese turbine-makers witnessing a drop in profitability, even if they have remained in the black.
As many are murmuring in an industry being buffeted by macroeconomic headwinds and aching with supply chain growing pains, is the line between innovation-driven cost reduction and pan-industrial sustainability about to be crossed?
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This article was first published in Aegir Insights' intelligence newsletter, Beaufort.
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