Zero Gearbox Adds Up To Massive New Offshore Wind Turbine Opportunities

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Our friends over at GE Power Conversion have turned our attention to the fact that the cost of offshore wind energy is higher than it could be, partly because of, well, wind. Installation and maintenance operations have to elbow in around weather that often varies from challenging to life-threatening, and according to GE, every time you send out a support vessel you’re talking about $10,000 per day and up. We had no idea, did you?

That brings us around to the topic of permanent magnet generators. They work on direct drive and require no gearbox, thus eliminating many pesky little extra things that could go wrong. They could help cut way down on those $10,000-per-day outings, but the challenge has been to design a generator big enough to handle gigantic offshore wind turbines.

largest offshore wind turbine generator GE

GE Power Conversion’s Zero Gearbox Generator

And, that brings us around to the reason why GE tapped us on the shoulder. We’ve been following the company’s recent wind turbine innovations, such as the launch of a super-smart “brilliant” Internet-enabled onshore wind turbine in the Netherlands, and a cladded space frame wind turbine tower in the Mohave Desert.

GE also wants us to know about its next-generation permanent magnet generators (PMGs), which are large enough to corral the energy from offshore wind turbines, while being compact, lightweight, efficient, and reliable. Its current model — one of the world’s largest, according to GE — weighs in at 6 megawatts.

As for the size of a typical offshore wind turbine, the GE Power Conversion blog puts it into perspective. If you’ve ever seen an Airbus A380, imagine four of them parked end to end. That’s about equal to the sweep of today’s offshore wind turbine blades.

Here’s the advantages as described by GE:

GE Power Conversion’s direct drive system has no mechanical gearbox coupled to the generator. This increases reliability and the turbine’s availability, while the elimination of the gearbox allows for higher efficiencies. The high reliability also leads to increased production time and fewer maintenance house calls, ultimately driving down the cost of wind energy.

To gild the lily, GE Power Conversion’s PMG system is designed with built-in redundancy, with two electrical channels. If connectivity is lost in one channel, the turbine can continue to function until a repair run can be scheduled.

If you want to see one in action, you have to go France or Belgium, but that could be just the first trickle in a flood. GE is also eyeballing growth in the market for offshore wind turbines in the Americas and China, for starters.

About that American Offshore Wind Energy Thing…

Although the US has been adopting onshore wind energy hand over fist, the nation’s enviable offshore resources have yet to be tapped.

Part of the reason is that technology has not yet caught up with geology. The long Pacific coastline is not hospitable to shallow water turbines, and deepwater wind turbine technology is still in the development stages.

The other part is political. The US Atlantic Coast is swarming with offshore wind energy opportunities, but little has been done so far. It appears that there is some kind of connection between the party affiliation of a coastal state’s elected officials and the progress made on offshore wind development.

However, the outlook for US offshore wind energy on the Atlantic Coast has been looking brighter over the past few months. In a major speech last summer, President Obama dropped a tantalizing hint about the role of wind power in the future US energy landscape. Since then, the Interior Department has forged ahead with a series of Atlantic coast offshore wind farm leases, effectively blowing off the political bottleneck.

Whatever Happened To The New Jersey Energy Link?

Speaking of Atlantic Coast offshore wind energy, while we were surfing around the Intertubes for the latest news we came across something called the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC). That’s the massive transmission project that would tie all that new Atlantic Coast offshore wind energy together.

Back in October 2013, AWC got all excited over a part of the project called the New Jersey Energy Link. This would be an undersea, offshore transmission project connecting the northern and southern parts of the state. The overarching goal is to harden the state’s grid against damaging storms, but given its location off the New Jersey coast, it also has a strong offshore wind energy angle.

AWC was especially excited about the job prospects:

The New Jersey Energy Link could become the foundation for many thousands of future jobs in a new New Jersey offshore wind industry. According to a study by IHS Global Insight, a large, multi-year build out of offshore wind farms could create between 10 and 20 thousand jobs in the state, pump $9 billion into the State economy and bolster state and local tax revenues by $2.2 billion.

Building an offshore electrical substation platform to connect the wind turbines to the transmission system would employ an additional 500-600 New Jersey workers for two years for each platform according to estimates by Bechtel, the project’s Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contractor.

I know, right? With Google among the project sponsors, this is certainly an A-list project.

Unfortunately, offshore wind energy in New Jersey has been facing those aforementioned political A-listers.

Last we heard, the New Jersey Energy Link developers had given up on the wind angle, so GE and its PMG might have to wait a bit longer to tap into that market.

If you’ve heard anything else about the New Jersey Energy Link, give us a whistle in the comment thread.

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Photo credit: Permanent magnet generator for offshore wind turbine courtesy of GE Power Conversion.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3137 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

17 thoughts on “Zero Gearbox Adds Up To Massive New Offshore Wind Turbine Opportunities

  • I just saw an article on a Belgian news-site (deredactie) about hundreds of offshore turbines worldwide having trouble with a form of cement glue being eroded by seawater. The cement glue is used to correct the angle in which the turbine connects to the foundation (back when they couldn’t sink them exactly right). When it erodes, the turbine stands at a slight angle, decreasing efficiency and requiring extensive repairs.
    Might be interesting to look into ?

    • I’ve been trying to find that article, but I couldn’t. And it wasn’t mentioned by any other Flemish news sites either, including more specialised ones like

      • My bad, is was the nieuwsblad site who got it from Eneco. I’ll post the link below, but it’ll take time to get through the filters.

        • Here’s the Google translation –

          “Hundreds of offshore wind farms are not quite right or threatening to come are skewed. In the construction was about five years ago, cement adhesive is used in order to avoid that, but the adhesive is found to let go through salt, waves and weather. Acute danger that the windmills tipping is not there, the energy company Eneco says.

          Eneco is currently recovering late sixties such windmills in the Princess Amalia Wind Farm in the North Sea. Worldwide, approximately 2,500 windmills built the same way.Approximately three quarters of these cement glue is used to his problems.

          “A wind turbine consists of three parts: a heistuk being beaten in the seabed, a middle and on top of the turbine with the blades. Nowadays we can accurately ramming formerly could not already. Then you never got the pole totally right into the ground, “explains a spokesperson from Eneco. A layer of cement glue must recover that difference.

          Less return

          The wind does not pick up as their maximum yield. A windmill slightly off plumb, delivers less power, so less money for the owner. “We have to replace the glue by something that does hold, and that we are doing now,” says Eneco.

          The company would not say anything about costs at stake.

  • they have a Windturbine from Holland with chopper landing space on top.
    sink the boat and—go to the chopper.

    • Doing maintenance visits with a helicopter instead of by boat is possible, but that also increases the costs (helicopter flights and maintenance don’t come cheap) and can cause even more hazard risk if the visits need to be done in inclement weather.
      So with what GE is trying to do here and make overall maintenance less necessary perhaps the economics of doing those visits by helicopter will work out better. But with varying conditions and weather it won’t always be true for all sites that it will be possible to sink the boat, as you say.

      • Gearless Windturbines are super.
        the 5 Mgw gearless offshore cannot be stopped when installation started.
        and I love boats,
        maintenance costs will be much lower than coal nuke maintenance costs,
        by boat or chopper.
        I am sure.
        Arnold Schwarzenegger quote
        go to the chopper.

  • Bet you can slightly see these puppies from space with that wingspan. Wonder how long it will take for PMGs to shrink to fit the consumer market.

    • They already have to some extent with small companies selling direct AC voltage production models in the 1-2 Kw and less range.
      They have issues though in low wind speeds because of the torque needed to overcome the pull of the magnets and start producing power. This can be compensated for to some extent with multiple odd numbers of blades, but then you get into weight and balance issues and excessive bearing wear.
      There is a guy on YouTube that makes and sells small turbines for residential use that has a lot of interesting videos on different applications and issues. Think he goes by the name of Mr Wind, if I can get time later will try to confirm for you, but you might be able to find on your own.

    • Had a chance to go find it. They are now under the company name of Missouri Wind and Solar.
      I haven’t checked them out since last year, but noticed that there are some new videos about turbines putting out 3 phase AC in very low wind speeds with improved grid tied inverters that are UL rated.
      Have to go back and see what else new has been happening myself.
      I think it is great the way these new opportunities for people to generate their own power keep improving.
      Hope this helps you find out about you were asking about.
      Have a good day.

  • PMGs and where appropriate Space Frames seem so obvious. In hindsight.

    PMGs may also solve one of the major complaints residents have about wind turbines. The noisy gear boxes.

  • “It appears that there is some kind of connection between the party affiliation of a coastal state’s elected officials and the progress made on offshore wind development.”

    You don’t say. Color me shocked.

  • What is the point of this article? GE now builds gearless turbines?

    Gearless turbines have been state of the art onshore since 1993 (Enercon), and most of the new offshore turbines are also gearless (Siemens 6 MW).

    • It’s a puff-piece.. just ignore the ad 😉

  • The name of that desert is spelled “Mojave”.

Comments are closed.