GE's Growing Bet -- Wind Power

With a new prototype turbine rated at 3.6 megawatts, GE Wind Energy prepares for growth in 'green' power.

Wind energy is no longer a science project," says Steve Zwolinski, president and CEO of GE Wind Energy, a subsidiary of GE Power Systems, Atlanta. Zwolinski, above, expects the wind energy sector to grow 20% per year with an emphasis on Europe, the U.S. and Latin America. To meet demand for larger, more efficient wind turbines, GE Wind Energy is field-testing the first commercial unit rated over three megawatts. "Turbine size is what has really driven down the cost of wind energy." Government policies (tax structure and subsidies) and issues such as the Kyoto treaty are encouraging fossil fuel alternatives. For example, the European Union's goals by 2010 include having 22% of its electrical power come from renewable sources. Zwolinski thinks similar gains are possible in the U.S. with the right incentives and technology gains. "There's enough wind power potential from North Dakota to Texas to feed the entire U.S." GE says Europe in 2001 acquired nearly two-thirds of the total wind power capacity added globally -- about 4,500 megawatts. The U.S. grew by 1,700 megawatts, more than double its previous record in 1999, says the American Wind Energy Association. Already close to 30 million Europeans use wind-generated power with Germany being the largest producer, says GE. In Denmark wind turbines generate close to 20% of the electrical power. Thus far GE claims more than 5,500 installations with a rated capacity exceeding 3,000 megawatts. Its top customers include EHN in Spain, Umweltkontor in Germany; and Florida Power & Light, American Electric Power, and PacifiCorp in the U.S. Zwolinski says the new turbine will become commercially available in 2004. His current line-up has wind generators rated at 750 and 900 kilowatts and 1.5 megawatts. A single 1.5-megawatt wind turbine can supply about 400 American households, says the American Wind Energy Association. The prototype's design is based on GE's 1.5-megawatt wind turbine, a series introduced in 1996. More than 1,150 of those units are in operation, says Zwolinski. To produce the prototype, designers increased the generator size and upped the rotor diameter to 104 meters with a swept area of 8,495 square meters. Those used offshore will have a 75 meter hub height because wind shear is less of a factor in that environment. GE's wager on wind power started in May 2002 with the acquisition of Enron Wind by GE Power Systems.

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