Largest ever turbine will help offshore hit LCoE goal

The offshore wind industry entered 2016 on the back of the historic Paris Agreement at COP21 and a record year for the European sector — with both installed capacity and investments doubling in 2015, compared to the previous 12 months.

But such a favourable situation does nothing to resolve the ongoing debate on the viability of this technology and the price paid for it.

The fact is that the future of offshore wind power is essentially dependent on our capacity to reduce its cost — the only way to make it the most obvious, socially responsible and undisputable alternative in economic terms, quite aside from political will.

The industry goal of achieving a levelised cost of energy (LCoE) of €100 ($110) per MWh by 2020 is key to this.

From the inception of Adwen — which was set up 12 months ago, but whose know-how is the result of 21 years’ experience in the onshore and offshore wind sectors — this goal has been uppermost in our minds.

We are meeting this challenge by building the largest turbine the industry has ever seen, while taking a collaborative approach with our customers and suppliers.

The increase in power rating to 8MW means, for our customers, that fewer turbines, substructures, cables and O&M visits are required per MW to generate the same power.

In terms of technology, our AD 8-180 machine has the widest rotor on the market — 180 metres — and consequently a new industry high for a turbine’s swept area. This leads to the highest annual energy production (AEP) per turbine, the variable which has the most direct relation on LCoE. 

In developing our next-generation turbine, we have incorporated our experience in the turnkey installation of six 5MW Areva turbines at Alpha Ventus in 2009 and in its operation and maintenance, which has high availability values. And, above all, we have built on the lessons learned in the commissioning and operation of 120 Areva turbines in 2015 at Germany’s Trianel Windpark Borkum (400MW) and Global Tech 1 (also 400MW).

The new turbine, designed with the combined engineering input of Areva and Gamesa, not only impacts on performance, but also installation costs, operation and maintainability.

In parallel, to pursue our mission of becoming industry leaders, we want to mirror ourselves on the example of Gamesa, which has achieved such success in the onshore segment. We have benefited from the support of their strong supply chain, which has allowed us to start off from a very advanced position.

It is important for the sector’s cost-cutting mission, and to improve component quality, that turbine makers work closely with key suppliers — those that are capable of adapting to our industry and have a long-term vision. We know that if we can achieve the level of development of the onshore supply chain, this may be a game-changer for the offshore industry, and this is our ultimate goal.

In the area of operations, we have adopted several best practices from the automotive industry, leveraging the experience of some of the members of our management team in that sector.

This approach aims to address the lack of standardisation in the design and manufacturing processes in the wind sector, and particularly in the case of offshore.

Our industry has few commodity products, which prevents our suppliers from managing economies of scale.

For turbine manufacturers, the customised design of each component requires more work on its design and validation, and a steeper learning curve, all of which ultimately affects the LCoE.

In a nutshell, our short-term challenge is to achieve the right balance between incorporating proven design features in the AD 8-180, while challenging the status quo and modus operandi in the manufacturing processes and all stages of offshore operations, and by implementing the successful industrial models of the onshore wind energy and automotive industries.

All this is managed with a transversal approach supported by our Department for the Reduction of LCoE.

Following this path, and spurred by the talent and enthusiasm of our workforce, we are convinced that we will play a key role in achieving the objectives of the sector.

This is the goal we work towards every day at Adwen.

Luis Álvarez is general manager of Adwen, the offshore joint venture between Spain’s Gamesa and France’s Areva, and is the project manager for its forthcoming 8MW turbine. He was previously chief operating officer of Gamesa’s offshore activities

This piece was published as part of the Thought Leaders series. Recharge’s Thought Leaders Club brings together leading thinkers and participants from the renewable-energy sector to examine the key challenges facing our industry