Rotterdam’s famous windmills, cube houses, and tulip gardens will soon have to compete for attention with a towering newcomer. GE announced plans this week to erect a prototype of the world’s largest wind turbine, the Haliade-X, on the city’s outskirts. The turbine has a rotor that measures 220 meters in diameter — twice the length of a football field — and stretches 260 meters from its base to blade tips. That’s nearly three times the height of New York’s Statue of Liberty, measured from the ground to the tip of the torch.
The huge rotor allows engineers to capture more wind and increase what the industry calls capacity factor. The wind doesn’t always blow and this number describes the amount of power the turbine can produce per year at a given site versus the energy it could generate had it run at full power all the time. GE’s Haliade-X clocks in at 63 percent — 5 to 7 points higher than the competition. “Basically, every point of capacity factor is worth $7 million per 100 megawatts for our customers,” said Vincent Schellings, who leads the development team. “That’s a nice upside.”
Each Haliade-X will be able to generate 12 megawatts, enough to supply 16,000 European homes. GE engineers calculate that just one of the machines located at a typical North Sea site will be able produce 67 gigawatt-hours per year.
Although the Haliade-X is an offshore turbine, GE Renewable Energy and its partner Future Wind will build the prototype on land. The North Sea can get rough, especially in the winter, and the idea was to make it easier for engineers to access the site during the five-year testing period. Still, the windy flatlands surrounding the Dutch port will allow the company to test the technology “in the most drastic weather conditions,” according to John Lavelle, vice president at GE Renewable Energy and CEO of its Offshore Wind unit.
GE said construction will start in summer 2019. The testing regimen will allow the company to gather enough data to obtain a type certificate, a key step toward commercializing the machine in 2021.
The prototype is part of a $400 million investment in the development of the Haliade-X that GE Renewable Energy announced in March 2018. The company aims to reduce offshore wind’s cost of energy and make it more competitive.
Part of the project is also the development of the massive, 107-meter turbine blades. They are being designed by LM Wind Power, a subsidiary of GE Renewable Energy, and built in a new factory in Cherbourg, France. GE will build the Haliade-X’s nacelle — the part that sits on top of the tower and holds the generator and other equipment — at its factory in Saint-Nazaire, France.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What is the biggest rotor we would still feel comfortable with?’ Then we pushed ourselves some more,” Schellings told GE Reports. “From a technology perspective, it seems like a stretch. But we know it’s doable. The beauty of the turbine is that it gives an edge over the competition. There’s nothing like this.”