File this one under T for Then You Win. The US wind industry has taken plenty of ribbing from various politicians and pundits over the years, but meanwhile those pesky “windmills” just keep growing in size and power. In the latest development, GE has just announced that its enormous 12-megawatt Haliade-X wind turbine is getting an additional 1-megawatt makeover on its way to the gigantic Dogger Bank offshore wind farm in the North Sea, where one sweep of its mighty blades will produce enough clean kilowatts to keep a typical household running for more than two days.
GE Ditches Coal, Cites Bottom Line
It’s been quite a week for GE. Things started off with a bang on Monday, when the iconic US company with a global reach exposed the reality behind the fantasy of reviving the US coal industry. The company announced that it intends to exit the new-build coal power plant market, effectively twisting the knife into an industry that has fallen into limbo on President* Trump’s watch.
The downward drift of the US coal industry is somewhat ironic, considering that saving coal jobs was a cornerstone of Trump’s successful** 2016 campaign for the Oval Office. However, apparently he dropped the idea in favor of saving gas jobs by the time his 2019 State of the Union address rolled around.
Nevertheless, GE has been pivoting to renewables in general and offshore wind in particular. In a press release on Monday, GE reaffirmed that it is “working to make electricity more affordable, reliable, accessible, and sustainable.”
In another twist of the knife, GE Senior VP Russell Stokes explained that GE is “focused on power generation businesses that have attractive economics and a growth trajectory.”
Squeezing 13 Megawatts From A 12-Megawatt Wind Turbine
GE plans to wind down its ongoing obligations, including contracts with existing coal power plants, so it will be some time before the company completely disentangles itself from coal power.
In the meantime, the company is determined to power itself to the top of the wind turbine hill.
While experimenting with some interesting variations like cladding for wind turbine towers, integrated energy storage, and nacelle “noses,” GE was also forging ahead with powerful new turbine technology. In 2018 the company introduced its 12-megawatt Haliade-X wind turbine, featuring monster sized, 107-meter turbine blades.
The new wind turbine blades began rolling off the assembly line in 2019 and the Haliade-X platform is still undergoing final certification from DNV-GL. It looks like GE is not letting any grass growing under its feet, because it already has a 13-megawatt version in the works.
Yesterday GE announced that it will send a total of 190 of the new wind turbines off to the first two phases of the Dogger Bank offshore wind farm, which will be the largest wind farm in the world when fully built out.
For those of you keeping score at home, Dogger Bank still needs a final sign-off from the developers SSE Renewables and Equinor, but it looks like that process will be completed before the end of the year.
Dogger Bank will be constructed in three parts and is expected to generate 6 terawatt-hours annually from each part when completed in 2026.
More Wind Turbines For The US
The switcheroo from coal power to wind power is a big one for GE. Bigger still would be the company’s exit from the new gas power plant market.
That side of the business is still going strong, though red flags have been going up of late. Across the pond, the firm SS&A Power Development is already ratcheting down the life expectancy of new gas power plants in anticipation of competition from renewables and energy storage after 2030.
Here in the US, cheap natural (aka fossil) gas was the main force driving coal out of the power generation market after the shale gas boom took off during the Bush administration. In recent years, though, the falling cost of both renewable energy and energy storage has begun to edge both coal and gas aside.
GE has had a hand in that trend, having produced the wind turbines installed at Rhode Island’s Block Island wind farm, which is the nation’s first — and to date, only — offshore wind farm.
Those turbines weighed in at only 6 megawatts, and GE has upped the US offshore wind ante with new turbines for Ørsted’s planned Ocean Wind wind farm, off the coast of New Jersey.
Last year those 107-meter blades for the 12 megawatt Haliade-X began undergoing stress tests with an assist from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s wind turbine testing facility.
GE is also sending the 12-megwatt turbines to Ørsted’s Skipjack Wind Farm off the Maryland coast. That’s an interesting bit of news because the wind farm was originally planned for 8-megawatt turbines. The switch to bigger turbines will enable Ørsted to reduce the number of turbines in the project. All else being equal, that will lead to lower construction costs.
On that score, it is also interesting to note that GE will contribute more to Dogger Banks than the 13-megawatt wind turbine. The company also announced a new partnership with the UK’s ORE Catapult wind R&D center with the aim of cutting costs, partly by reducing the amount of time needed for humans to spend at the offshore site, and increasing the use of robotics and remote operations. The new strategy is also expected to save on energy costs.
More Wind Turbine Jobs For The US
All of this translates into more clean power jobs for the US, putting the wind-rich Atlantic coast states in the catbird seat while sprinkling additional jobs in wind turbine manufacturing across the rest of the country.
Just yesterday the American Wind Energy Association ran the numbers and reported that “developing 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind could deliver up to $25 billion per year in new economic activity and support up to 83,000 new, well-paying jobs by 2030” in the US.
That looks pretty good compared to the dwindling number of coal jobs in the US. Last month Forbes observed that overall coal employment has declined by about 500 jobs since Trump took office, landing at a total of 45,400 as of last July.
The COVID-19 crisis can shoulder part of the blame in 2020, but the long term decline shows no sign of stopping. Last month the Lexington Herald Leader took stock of the situation in Kentucky and noted that the state’s pre-Trump loss of coal jobs has rippled well into the Commander-in-Chief’s time in office
“Coal employment averaged 3,813 in Eastern Kentucky in the period when Trump told miners to get ready to go back to work,” the Leader reported. “In the same period this year, from April 1 through June 30, the industry employed an average of just 2,256 people in the region.”
“Statewide, coal jobs in the second quarter of 2020 averaged 3,760, down from 6,517 in the same period in 2016,” the Leader continued.
If landlocked Kentucky is to grow more wind jobs to replace coal, it is starting with one hand tied behind its back. Aside from political factors, the landlocked state is not in position to take full advantage of the offshore wind market, and it is located in a region of the US where onshore wind resources are less than optional.
Nevertheless, according to AWEA’s latest rundown, the state does have 11 manufacturers that produce components for the US wind industry.
In addition, as electric utilities decarbonize the state could see its solar jobs numbers tick up as well, so stay tuned for more in that.
Follow me on Twitter.
Photo: Haliade-X wind turbine courtesy of GE.