Rare earth seen by Siemens as differentiating factor

Siemens is betting it can sell an unproven wind turbine that uses rare-earth metals from China to cement its lead over Vestas in an offshore power market that’s forecast to be worth $50 billion by 2020.
Rare earth seen by Siemens as differentiating factor

Germany’s largest engineering company is developing a machine with fewer moving parts to be used at sea, saying the design offers simpler maintenance and improved reliability. Denmark’s Vestas, the world’s biggest supplier for land-based wind farms, is sticking with its existing technology.

With winter gales exceeding 145 kilometres per hour and waves topping 15 feet at prime sites in the North Sea, the thousands of turbines planned for roll out by Germany, the UK and other neighbouring states must be rugged enough to avoid a maintenance disaster that could sour the offshore fortunes of either supplier. While Siemens’s “direct-drive” design eliminates gears that are a major cause of outages in current turbines, the novelty may be its main drawback, analysts said.

“We do not have experience so far with a direct-drive machine offshore,” Birger Madsen, director of industry research house BTM Consult ApS, said in a telephone interview from Ringkoebing, Denmark. “The technology is unknown and there is the potential risk that something will surprise you.”

The wind turbines, whose blades sweep an area bigger than a football field, are competing as the centerpiece of offshore renewable-energy spending that the UK Carbon Trust said may grow to 33 billion pounds ($53 billion) by 2020, about eight times its 2010 level. Britain is the world’s largest offshore market, with more than 1.3 gigawatts of the total installed base of about 3 gigawatts at the end of 2010.

In the first four months of 2011, Siemens Energy has received a total of eleven European orders for delivery and installation of 151 onshore wind turbines, with combined capacity of about 360 megawatts (MW). The installed capacity of these eleven orders will be sufficient to supply up to 230,000 European households with clean electricity. For two of these projects Siemens will deliver a total of 19 of its new gearless wind turbines, each with a capacity of 3 MW and a rotor diameter of 101 meters. These innovative wind turbines will be used for the Dagpazari project in Turkey (39 MW) and the Millour Hill project (18 MW) in the UK.

Siemens also recently provided the turbines for Germany's first commercial offshore wind farm, which recently came on line. With German Chancellor Angela Merkel in attendance, EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG commissioned the project in the Baltic Sea last month, which consists of 21 Siemens wind turbines, each with a capacity of 2.3 megawatts (MW) and a rotor diameter of 93 metres. The EnBW Baltic 1 wind farm will supply more than 50,000 German households with clean electricity. Siemens Energy constructed the facility in an area covering about seven square kilometres located approximately 16 kilometres north of the Darss/Zingst peninsula.

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