There’s been more than a little jubilation in the offices of clean-energy developer CWP Renewables, as the arrival in Newcastle of the first of 46 ultra large GE Cypress turbines — each of which can generate 5.3 - 5.5 megawatts (MW) — coincided with the achievement of a successful grid-connection agreement for the company’s Bango Wind Farm near Yass in New South Wales.
Wind turbines worldwide are growing, sweeping a bigger slice of the sky to deliver the highest energy output from installations with the smallest footprint. Bango is the first project in Australia and the biggest in the world to deploy a revolutionary new turbine that not only provides 30% more energy than the preceding technology, but also features extended blades that can be delivered in two pieces, allowing it to be transported to sites with challenging access but great wind resource.
“The Cypress platform is an innovative new technology that allows us to really optimise the wind sites we’ve identified to produce the lowest cost of power,” says Jason Willoughby, CEO of CWP Renewables, developer of Bango Wind Farm. He adds, “It’s critical for helping us to deliver the lowest cost, reliable, emissions-free power to our customers.”
At the same time, new stringent rules governing connection of generators to Australia’s National Electricity Market require exhaustive modelling in any instance; rigorous testing of a new technology such as Cypress, that confirms its ability to contribute reliable supply and stabilising characteristics to the grid, has become paramount. Australia’s electricity grid, designed to deliver energy from centralised coal plants, is struggling with a transition to renewable energy sources that are widely distributed throughout regional areas where the transmission network is typically weaker. The modelled ability of the Cypress platform to meet grid requirements has been a huge win.
A welcome revelation
The scene was set for the lowest yet cost of wind-generated power in November 2018, when GE revealed the ingenious breakthrough behind its world’s-biggest wind turbine in a series of roadshows around Australia. With a rotor diameter of 158 metres, each Cypress turbine can power the equivalent of 2,200 average Australian homes, but the associated 77-metre long blade would have limited site selection, had it not been for an innovation pioneered by a triumvirate of lateral-thinking R&D hubs — GE’s Onshore Wind business, its Global Research Center and LM Wind Power, a worldwide leader in blade design acquired by GE Renewable Energy in 2017.
The resulting carbon blade is manufactured in two sections, which can negotiate most bends on the roads to high-wind resources, and is then assembled — locked together — onsite.
“The greater power generation of these turbines allows developers to reduce the number of machines that they need to install to meet the required output,” says Leo Cooper, country leader for GE Renewable Energy Onshore Wind in Australia and New Zealand. “And there’s a commensurate reduction in construction costs,” he says.
Cypress turbines will allow Bango Wind Farm to achieve a capacity of 240MW with its 46 turbines, along with the cost savings of not having to prepare access roads, concrete stands and electrical connections for the 10-15 extra turbines it would typically take to generate the same output. In addition, maintenance costs are reduced on wind farms that can deploy fewer turbines.
“A lot of bidding activity came off the technology roadshow GE ran in 2018,” says David Lian, head of sales for GE Renewable Energy, Onshore Wind ANZ. Although most wind turbine manufacturers are now testing larger machines, GE is first to market, and its split-blade technology is a key differentiator in regions where road access presents insurmountable challenges to the long loads typical of transporting wind farm components.
Connection leads to acceptance in a constrained market
Bango Wind Farm’s successful connection agreement paves the way both for banks to lend to projects deploying Cypress technology, and for future grid connections by companies using the platform.
Achieving connection, says Willoughby “was a collaborative effort between CWP, GE, the Australian Energy Market Operator and TransGrid, to work through all the challenges and requirements that come with connecting new technology for the first time.”
As the original equipment manufacturer, GE drew on understanding gained from validating Cypress technology at various global sites, and on the expertise of its Energy Consulting team both in Australia and in the US. “That history of connecting many different types of power generation equipment over many decades — all that institutional knowledge that sits within GE — is essential to the grid process,” says Lian.
Bango’s state of play
Bango Wind Farm is laid out in two zones: the western cluster of 21 turbine sites is “well into pouring foundations and getting ready to start erecting turbines as they arrive in coming weeks,” says Cooper; while earthworks and road formation are underway at the eastern cluster of 25 sites. Overall, despite some delays in turbine shipping from China due to COVID-19, the project is on schedule to be commissioned in 2021.
GE is handling all engineering, procurement and construction on the project, with Downer Group as its main sub-contractor; and CWP Renewables has engaged NSW and ACT transmission provider TransGrid to carry out high voltage and transmission works.
The region around Yass is known for its renewable resources, and earlier wind projects have spurred the local development of renewable-energy trade skills and qualifications. Such expertise, along with local supply and service contracts are being deployed at Bango, contributing to the economy of the Yass Valley. The wind farm will ultimately provide some 10 full-time jobs over the anticipated 30 years of its operation.
GE Renewables’ workforce is also excited about deploying the new technology: “It’s a fresh set of challenges for the team to work on new-product introduction,” says Cooper. There’s an industry-wide buzz around introduction of Cypress.
“Most of the projects that we’re bidding on now are based on the Cypress platform,” he says. Developers have been keen to adopt new technologies: “Everyone is chasing that lowest levelised cost of energy (LCOE) factor, in combination with the ability to overcome the grid-connection constraints that Australia is experiencing. GE is proud to be able to support our customers’ ambitions on both fronts, and accelerate Australia’s energy transition.”