In a quiet corner of Europe, a giant is stirring. A prototype of Cypress, GE Renewable Energy’s largest-ever onshore wind turbine, has just produced its first kilowatts of power in the Dutch coastal municipality of Wieringermeer. It’s now just a matter of time before this colossus brings serious renewable muscle to electricity grids all over the world.
“It’s been an amazing journey so far,” says Peter Wells, GE’s Onshore Wind regional leader for Europe, referring to Cypress’ remarkably short gestation period. GE announced Cypress in September 2017 and began installation of the platform in late 2018. “In a relatively short time, we have repositioned our technology platform to provide customer options and solutions that weren’t available before. The feedback is very positive and the potential is exciting.”
Indeed, the sheer size of Cypress is something to behold. The turbine’s tower and its 158-meter rotor diameter make it comparable in height to a New York skyscraper. The design will increase the turbine’s annual energy production (AEP) by an estimated 50 percent compared to GE’s 3-megawatt platform technology. That’s because the longer the rotor diameter of a wind turbine, the more wind it can catch. “You’re simply capturing more energy from the wind on the blade,” explains Andreas Joergens, a program manager for GE Renewable Energy who has been working at the prototype site.
Germany, whose 30,000 onshore wind turbines already generate around 15 percent of the country’s electricity, is a prime market for Cypress, Wells says. Just one of the Cypress models — in industry parlance they’re called the 4.8-158 and the 5.3-158; the first number stands for power generation and the other for rotor diameter — can generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 5,000 European homes.
Cypress has other cool features too. Bigger, in this instance, doesn’t mean more unwieldy and harder to transport. The blades on Cypress come in two pieces, offering a clear logistical advantage. Trucks can move the components through twisting roads in hilly terrain for assembly at the site.
The large, two-piece blade design also allows Cypress to compete in places where space is at a premium. For instance, power producers in regions with limited available land can maximize power generation with Cypress while minimizing the number of actual turbines, Joergens says.
Power producers can also play with other variables. Engineers can tweak the core technology of Cypress to optimize the turbine’s annual output by varying other component specifications like generator rating, tower height and noise rating in order to match local grid connection requirements or prevailing wind patterns. “You can play around with Cypress depending on your envelope of conditions — it might be terrain, wind resources, regulation, constraints on noise, height, rotor diameter or proximity to the built environment,” Wells says.
This means that for Cypress, Germany is just the beginning. Wells and Joergens reel off a list of countries and regions where Cypress has huge potential, not just in Europe but also in Asia, Australia and the Americas. Some of these countries have established wind power sectors, whereas others previously could not easily support ordinary turbines because of difficult local conditions.
Wells says Cypress can offer power producers in Germany and the Nordic region significant savings on the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for their wind farm projects compared to the 3-megawatt platform technology. The LCOE is a key metric for the power industry, representing the cost of producing electricity over the entire lifetime of a generating asset.
The promise of improved LCOE savings will allow producers to make competitive bids for wind farms on a per-megawatt-hour basis in renewable power auctions, which frequently tender for onshore wind capacity. This is crucial as wind power increasingly competes on price with other sources of power generation.
In the longer run, Cypress can save power producers billions of dollars per year. Consider that Germany alone produced nearly 90 terawatt-hours of electricity from onshore wind in 2018 — enough to power all of the Czech Republic or Belgium. The price of power on Germany’s wholesale market was around $50 per megawatt-hour in 2018.
The two-piece blade design also allows GE to squeeze new efficiencies from the manufacturing process itself, while still accommodating various turbine configurations based on customer needs. “We see a lot of potential in what this two-piece blade can offer us, including customizing blades more easily for sites,” says Wells.
In the meantime, GE engineers are running tests on the prototype to support the turbine’s type certificate, a key step to commercializing the product. Separately, they’re also working on static component tests where engineers gradually step up the load on the blade to prove its strength and flexibility, in much the same way as an aircraft’s wings are put through their paces.
“The testing never stops,” Joergens says. “But in the meantime, it’s just great to be part of a global team — in terms of engineering, supply chains, manufacturing and installation — that has turned Cypress from concept to reality in just 18 months.”