GE Energy to Acquire Offshore Wind Turbine Supplier ScanWind of Norway

Morphic Technologies AB has signed an agreement to sell ScanWind to GE Energy. ScanWind Group AS, headquartered in Trondheim, Norway, was founded in 1999 to develop and commercialize direct drive wind turbine technology suitable for offshore deployment. The company has approximately 45 employees, a subsidiary in Karlstad, Sweden, and an assembly plant in Verdal, 90 kilometers north of Trondheim, real estate that is excluded from the deal with GE.

"This acquisition will give GE the ability to provide a direct drive, offshore wind turbine offering as an option to our customers. Scanwind represents the next strategic fit for our wind turbine line and we look forward to further developing their proven technology," said Victor Abate, GE’s vice president of renewables, commenting on the deal.

The €18.2 million transaction, announced on August 12, is subject to customary closing conditions and expected to be completed in early September. Morphic, the current ScanWind Group AS majority shareholder, is also involved with fuel cells. Nord Trøndelag Elektrisitetsverk is the current minority shareholder at 18.5%.

Strategic fit

GE’s offshore wind power involvement dates back to 2000 when a first offshore project comprising seven 1.5-megawatt (MW) former Enron Wind (now GE) units was grid connected in Utgrunden, Sweden. It was later followed by seven of its 3.6-MW 3.6s Offshore turbines that became operational at Arklow Bank in the Irish Sea during 2004. Since then GE has kept a low profile in the offshore segment, even though the company developed an upgraded 3.6-MW 3.6sl Offshore turbine with enlarged 111-meter rotor (initially 104 meters).

However this new turbine model was either shelved or at least not explicitly offered to the offshore wind market during recent years. One possible explanation is that according to official GE Energy statements the global onshore market offers huge sales potential, whereas weather and other project risks are by comparison substantially less. However, one senior manager during a past interview also said that once a substantial number of major U.S. offshore projects enter an advanced stage GE will feel obliged to step in again.

That moment may have come now, amid a global financial credit crisis, but also with an entirely different political climate in the U.S. According to recent press reports the U.S. government has awarded five offshore wind development leases to developers that have planned projects off the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware.

The Right Time

The acquisition can therefore be viewed as a clever move at perhaps the right time. As a key advantage it immediately provides GE Energy with proven state-of-the-art 3.5-MW class (rotor diameter 90.6 meters) direct-drive wind technology specifically developed for coastal onshore and offshore deployment. ScanWind has an operational track record of over six-years with a 3-MW prototype to draw upon, supplemented by operational experiences with three more prototypes and eleven upgraded serial installations.

Interestingly, offshore wind market leader Siemens Wind Power of Germany currently dominates the market with a 3.6-MW geared turbine. In addition, in 2008 the company erected two of its new 3.6-MW direct drive Concept turbines for prolonged testing and analysis.

ScanWind’s pitch-controlled variable speed 3-MW prototype featuring a direct-drive permanent magnet Siemens generator was erected during March 2003 in Nærøy on the windy Norwegian coast. A second demonstration unit was erected during the autumn of 2004. This variable speed 3-MW turbine concept is equipped with a multi-speed variation gearbox and fixed speed generator that enables direct grid connection and eliminates an otherwise required electronic power converter.

The next two prototypes (3 and 4) have an increased 3.5-MW power rating with almost unchanged rotor diameter. These latest prototypes and the remaining 11 of a total of 15 operational ScanWind turbines are fitted with a 3.5-MW directly driven permanent magnet generator originating from Finnish supplier The Switch Ltd.

Upscaling

Back in 2003 ScanWind had already indicated its aim of further upscaling its 3-MW concept to a 5-MW power rating. In 2008 the company revealed a comprehensive staged product development strategy aimed at, “Increasing output on existing platform and optimize cost." This finally resulted into an optimized 4.X megawatt offshore turbine with corresponding rotor size.

Only the future will tell when and in what manner the world’s second-largest wind turbine supplier will decide to enter the U.S. — and perhaps also the global — offshore wind market. A combination of determination, together with its huge financial, technical and other company means and resources, may well turn GE Energy into an albeit late but formidable offshore wind market competitor.

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Eize de Vries worked from 2001 to 2010 as Wind Technology Correspondent for Renewable Energy World magazine and rejoined the publication again in 2013. He also works as a Technology and Market Trends Consultant for Windpower Monthly and WindStats Report, is contributing editor to reNews, and provides specialized editorial services to various other international clients. An automotive and agricultural engineer by profession, he among others...

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