Gamesa: Ready to go offshore

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As Gamesa sees its prototype offshore wind turbine produce its first kilowatt hours in the next few weeks what are the Spanish company’s expectations for the offshore wind industry? Headquartered in Vizcaya, Spain and with its offshore wind base in London, Gamesa now employs 6,500 people world wide and it has a presence in more than 50 countries, along with manufacturing centres in Spain, China, India, the US and Brazil. In 2012, Gamesa’s WTG sales abroad accounted for 85%. 

Established in 1976, Gamesa took its first step into the wind industry in 1994 when it developed a 16MW wind farm, which was a large wind farm for those times. Since that time it has installed 27,000MW in 42 countries and it also offers a full package of operation and maintenance services, managing more than 19,100MW. To provide customers with these services Gamesa has more than 400 O&M service centres world wide. The company also develops, constructs and sells wind farms, having installed close to 6,000MW and having a wind farm portfolio of 18,000MW in Europe, America and Asia.

The company, which is active in most parts of the industry, has production centres in Spain and China, which are the global production and supply hubs, and local production capacity in India, the US and Brazil.

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Gamesa’s offshore concept has been in development for many years. Originally its interest in offshore emerged in 2005 but it did not consider itself ready for another four years following a lengthy period of analysis. Juan Diego Diaz, Gamesa’s Marketing Director, comments: “We decided the moment was right to enter offshore activities because we considered we had built up enough knowledge and know-how from our onshore 4.5MW turbine in 2009.” 

Antonio de la Torre, Gamesa Product Development Director, explains: “The legacy of the 5MW started some six, seven years ago when we started to create technology and innovation for multi-megawatt turbines. At that time we were addressing general trends and creating patented technologies such as Multismart® for the control, Compactrain® for the drive train, Gridmate® for the electrical system, Flexifit® for maintenance, Innoblade® for the transportation of long blades, and Concretower® for the transportation and erection of the tower. When we knew we had the six solutions onboard, we were finally in a position to develop an offshore application with the first four of those technologies. Four of these patented and proven ‘multi-technologies’ have been integrated into the 5MW offshore turbine.”

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Now we have arrived at the prototype being installed in the Canary Islands, which is expected to be able to feed its first kilowatts into the grid in July, he adds. “Compared to competitors we have the advantage to have tested those technologies in our 4.5MW onshore platform, so it is not so difficult for us to extrapolate what has to be in place to make it a success.”

“This turbine is very competitive and very well tested. Few companies have had the chance to test a turbine for more than four years and we have a proven track record. We can supply all of the availability data to potential customers.”

Mr Diaz says that depending on the site it is possible to install the 5MW offshore using a monopile to a 35m depth because the turbine is so light. “This is extremely competitive. Any other 5MW or 6MW has to be installed using a jacket. Ultimately this can result in a 10-15% saving and this places us in a very good position in this market.” He points out that Gamesa is focused on reducing the cost of energy and for this reason the total head mass, the weight of blades and nacelle, is much lower than that of competitors, which is an advantage in terms of costs of the wind turbine and the foundation.

The Spanish group is confident it is on the right track because it has worked closely with prospective customers. Reaction to the new offshore turbine has been positive and the executives say they are optimistic that they will be installing the new turbines from 2014 onwards. “The final development is going to depend on the market of course, but we are ready, our customers are ready and everything is ready to go. Obviously the offshore markets in the UK and Germany are interesting but it is all dependent on the market.”

In terms of manufacturing Mr Diaz stresses that Gamesa will manufacture where it logistically makes sense and where it is cost effective, wherever this is in the world. “We are highly flexible and will manufacture where the customer wants us to. Our prototypes have been assembled in Spain but this is not to say that if it makes sense to be in the UK, we will be there.” Last year, Gamesa announced that it has the intention of installing a manufacturing and logistic base in the UK.

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Presently, Gamesa will concentrate its offshore activity on manufacturing, commissioning and O&M. Installation and EPC construction have not been identified as a core competence, although Gamesa will be ready to take on this scope at the customers’ request.

Focus on cost reduction

As well as the launch of its first offshore wind turbine Gamesa is very much focusing on bringing the cost of energy down. One of its major aims under its three-year (2013-2015) business strategy is “to respond to demand and continue to offer competitive technology solutions” and hence the launch of the two new platforms, the 2.5MW onshore and 5MW onshore and offshore.

Mr Diaz says: “Unfortunately it seems that the offshore wind industry is at an impasse at the moment. But what is going to be a game changer is a reduction in the cost of energy. In order to reduce this cost, balance of plant (BoP) cost reduction is going to be key as it represents more than 60% of total capex in offshore installations.”

There needs to be a massive R&D focus covering everything from foundations to cabling to vessels, to dramatically reduce the cost of energy, he stresses. “We cannot just focus on the wind turbine because this accounts for only 25-30% of capital expenditure.” At the same time, it is difficult to invest in the necessary research when the issue is not being spearheaded by the government, he argues. “To succeed it is mandatory to continue supporting offshore wind so we can keep a sustainable industry, otherwise it is impossible to achieve these goals and get the type of reductions we have seen onshore. There is always the idea that the offshore industry will perhaps get more support when onshore is mature. But if we leave it alone, it won’t develop. It is vital for governments to firmly support offshore for a number of years.”

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However, he admits that in Spain itself at the time this is a tough proposition. “The Spanish government is focusing on the deficit reduction. This is the first goal of the Spanish government and unfortunately nothing else is on their agenda. There is not much interest for offshore in Spain as the seabed conditions are not suitable. It is very difficult to do very much unless a floating solution is used; a clever and cost competitive solution.”

Outside of Europe, Gamesa is analysing some possibilities in China and it is still looking at the US, particularly in the Great Lakes, Pennsylvania and the east coast.

The company is optimistic about prospects for the new offshore turbine but a little sceptical about the speed of development of the industry and whether the original ambitious 2020 targets can be realised. Mr de la Torre says: “If you consider the industry has to install 35GW between now and 2020 and that is just in Europe. Can you imagine the industrial infrastructure that has to be set up to average 6GW a year? A thousand turbines a year, starting now!”

“However, that said ourselves and all of our competitors want to try to develop the renewables industry. All the OEMs are very optimistic. Dependency on fossil fuel has to end and offshore wind is an alternative. Green energy has to increase and we have to do it for the planet to survive ultimately!” 

New offshore turbine G128-5.0 MW poised to produce its first kWh 

Gamesa’s first offshore turbine platform, the 5.0 MW offshore, i s poised to produce its first kilowatt-hours in the next few weeks. The Gamesa prototype is also Spain’s first offshore wind turbine.

The company aims to go into production as soon as it closes relevant orders but in any case it will be ready for production in the second quarter next year. Gamesa says that there are already several commercial projects in the pipeline for the new turbine. It was one of the turbine manufacturers shortlisted by Iberdrola for its planned 400MW €1.6bn Wikinger offshore wind farm in the German Baltic Sea. Iberdrola, which owns 20% of Gamesa, has made it clear it plans to use 5MW turbines at the wind farm so the new addition
to the Gamesa wind turbine family may prove well timed.

Installed at the Arinaga Quay, in Gran Canary, the Canary Islands, Spain, the new offshore turbine has a 128m rotor diameter and a modular and redundant design. The G128-5.0 MW includes proven technology from the Gamesa 4.5MW turbine.

Gamesa considered a medium-speed geared WTG as the most cost efficient option for a 5MW turbine and at the same time, the most reliable one, rather than choosing a direct drive option says Mr Díaz. The company estimates that it has invested more than half a million engineering hours in the turbine’s design process to ensure reliability and maximise energy output. The n ew turbine is also suitable for a floating platform.

The blades have been manufactured at their own plant in Aoiz, Navarre, with each spanning 62.5 metres and weighing 15 tonnes. These are the largest turbine blades ever produced and transported in Spain and are among the largest ever manufactured in Europe.

At 12.5 metres long, 4 metres tall and wide, and weighing 72 tonnes, the nacelle has been manufactured at the Tauste, Zaragoza, factory and the nearly 90 metre tower was manufactured by Windar, a joint venture between Gamesa and Daniel Alonso.

In late 2012 Gamesa obtained design certification from DNV. The offshore turbine will undergo testing and validation for the next three to four months and Gamesa hopes t o have the type-certificate in place by March 2014.

Location, location, location

Mr de la Torre says the company chose the Canary Islands’ site because the wind is blowing there for at least 65% of the time. “There are very good conditions for the foundations and for this testing phase. Normally, it would take an average of eight months to gather all the data needed, whereas we can do it in three to four months, which is quite an advantage.”
Mr Díaz adds: “We also had the advantage of our experience with the 4.5MW. For four years we have availability figures reaching 97% on average and 100% for many m onths and this is even in the toughest part of the year.” 

There was also a great opportunity to have the prototype situated at the entrance of a port, which is very similar to offshore conditions, they add. For measurement and reconnection measurement purposes it is much easier to have the prototype next to a port than out at sea. “We are implementing a new monitoring system, so this is an ideal place and represents offshore conditions up to a certain extent.” 

“It is very difficult to find a site like Arinaga in terms of average wind speed. This was critical in order to get the certification as soon as possible. Compared to competito rs, we can get the validation in just a few months,” says Mr Díaz.

FLOATGEN project

Gamesa and ACCIONA Windpower initiated the FLOATGEN project in a bid to discover the viability of developing a floating offshore platform.

Mr de la Torre explains: “We felt this development was mandatory and being an industry leader, it is important for us to investigate a floating solution so we can participate in the drive to reduce costs.” 

This project plans to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of two integrated floating wind turbine systems in open sea conditions in southern European at depths of over 40m.

Launching with a budget of over €36m, this project is co-financed by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Innovation. With a contribution of €19m, this is the largest wind demonstration project ever financed by the European Commission.

The two systems under test are a 2MW turbine model on a ring-sh aped surface-floating platform (Gamesa, IDEOL, and the Stuttgart Chair of Wind Energy at the University of Stuttgart) and a 3MW turbine on a semisubmersible structure (ACCIONA Windpower, Navantia and Olav Olsen).

The turbines will be installed by 2015 and Fraunhofer IWES and RSK Environment Ltd. will monitor their performance during 2016. The consortium will define and validate appropriate methods and processes to install, operate and access deep floating wind turbine systems. Major issues to be addressed include towing processes, installation and on-site commissioning, monitoring and countering environmental impacts and assessment of performance, operational/maintenance costs and accessibility constraints.

It also aims to create new protocols for the operation and maintenance according to the weather conditions and to establish criteria and knowledge to show that the costs of floating offshore energy can be made comparable with fixed offshore structures.

By 2017/18 the project is expected to have found a principal so lution for the floating platform and how it can
be industrialised in a realistic manner.

Results obtained will be transferred to future deep offshore projects developed by Gamesa and ACCIONA Windpower.

Helen Hill