GE’s Wind Power Division Gets Its Feet Wet

Ireland’s first commercial-scale wind farm is now officially switched on and harnessing the brisk winds of the Irish Sea to provide power for coastal Irish communities. Arklow Bank Offshore Wind Park, inaugurated this week, also reflects a number of “firsts” for wind power development.

Not only is the 25 MW project Ireland’s first commercial-scale wind farm, but it’s also GE Energy’s first large-scale offshore wind energy facility developed solely as a technology demonstration and learning platform for offshore wind power. It’s also the first commercial installation of GE Energy’s new offshore-specific wind turbine, a massive 3.6 MW machine that tower 30 stories above the water and whose blades sweep a 104 meter swath out of the air. GE Energy is known the world over for their many installations of land-based 1.5 MW wind turbines, inherited from Enron Wind through a 2002 acquisition of the company. This project reflects a new phase for GE Energy as it is a test case for the company’s move into offshore wind power markets. The first commercial prototype 3.6 MW wind turbine was unveiled by GE during 2002. Installed on land as a test bed, this machine is currently producing power for the Spanish energy supplier Iberdrola. While offshore wind power developments throughout the world have been slower to materialize than some had expected, the new frontier promises higher and more consistent wind speeds is expected to play an increasing role in wind power development. The project is sited about 10 kilometers from Arklow’s shore on the Arklow Bank in the Irish Sea. Government and business dignitaries were on hand for the inauguration including Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern T.D. and David Garman, the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for the U.S. Department of Energy. “As the world searches for cleaner and more sustainable methods of generating electricity, wind power is a renewable technology that has moved center stage,” said Mark Little, vice president-power generation for GE Energy. “The Irish Sea, with its strong, abundant winds and sea conditions has challenged this milestone project, which has provided a showcase for both the wind industry and Ireland.” Little added that the wind farm’s current power production data appears promising. “Testing indicates that the output of the wind park is exceeding its expected power curve, and, despite the harsh weather conditions and environment, the project is exceeding its availability targets.” Co-developed by GE Energy and Airtricity, Ireland’s largest renewable energy company, the Arklow Bank Wind Park was first introduced by Airtricity as a 520- megawatt project, and is the largest offshore wind park to attain preliminary planning approval through a Foreshore Lease granted by the Irish government. The current 25 MW project built by GE is considered phase I of the overall proposed project. Under the terms of the project’s co-development agreement, once GE’s demonstration is complete – approximately two years from first operation – Zeusford, a company owned 50 percent by Airtricity and EHN of Spain, holds an option to purchase the project from GE. Further future development of the project to its potential 520 MW has been proposed by Zeusford. If completed, the 520 MW project could meet approximately ten percent of Ireland’s total electricity needs. On the island of Ireland, wind power installations currently contribute only 175 MW, of which 138 MW are installed in the Republic. If completed, the 520 MW project could meet approximately ten percent of Ireland’s total electricity needs. On the island of Ireland, wind power installations currently contribute only 175 MW, of which 138 MW are installed in the Republic. While this wind project, and all of GE Energy’s wind power business developments, have been in effect for three years, they all dovetail closely with the company’s recent launch of “Ecomagination.” This is a more focused and specific commitment to cleaner energy solutions on the part of GE Energy which seems many opportunities for growth in the field.

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