REpower eyes 6M blade-sweep boost

REpower is readying an upgraded version of its flagship 6.15MW offshore turbine that will significantly boost the swept area of its rotor blades, says Frank Zimmermann, president of the company’s offshore unit.

REpower has made clear its intention to stick with its 6.15MW offering – known as the 6M – through to the end of the decade, in contrast with rivals like Vestas which are readying larger models.

The Suzlon-owned company stole a march on competitors with both its 5M and 6M models, deployed at Thornton Bank, Ormonde, and the Beatrice and Alpha Ventus demonstration sites.

However, Zimmermann brushes aside a recent assessment from analyst IHS-EER which claimed REpower has a “lock” on the 5MW-6MW offshore market segment.

“We don’t,” he tells Recharge. “We have a little bit of headway because we started developing these machines in 2003, and we have 100 of them running.

“But our competition now has rotor diameters that allow for a swept area of 18,000 sq metres. We also need to have that, otherwise we become less attractive.”

The 48 REpower 6M turbines installed at Belgium’s Thornton Bank project – inaugurated yesterday – have a swept area of 12,500 sq m, nearly twice the size of a normal football field. However, the two Siemens 6MW turbines recently installed at Gunfleet Sands boast a swept area of 18,600 sq m.

“We’re working on an upgrade of the 6M, and we hope that at one of the future [industry conferences] we can come to present the case – and we don’t just want to present paper,” Zimmermann says.

“If you want to continue in this game – and we certainly want to – then we need to develop our machine further.”

Zimmermann declined to disclose the exact timing of the new product release. Offshore 2013, a trade fair organised by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), will take place in November in Frankfurt.

Among the challenges for REpower are the financial difficulties of parent company Suzlon and the slowdown in the European offshore wind market.

REpower is contracted to deliver a total of 102 of its 6M turbines to RWE’s Nordsee Ost and Innogy Nordsee projects, both in German waters. After that, however, its offshore order book is thin.

Earlier this year REpower slashed hundreds of jobs at its blade-making unit after an order for EnBW’s Hohe See offshore wind project was put on hold.

Part of the problem is market uncertainty, Zimmermann says. “Investors are waiting for political decisions to be taken.”

Zimmermann also acknowledges that the competitive landscape is ever more crowded.

“Too many manufacturers have invested in offshore technologies,” he says.

“There are so many turbine models available, so many new developments ongoing, so many pounds and euros and dollars being spent developing new technologies – it’s a bit scary.”

He notes that the huge momentum the offshore wind market had a few years ago seems to have dissipated, at least for now. “We’re no longer the same kind of heroes we were a few years ago.”