Having won nearly 5 gigawatts of orders for its Haliade-X offshore wind turbines over the past month, GE is thinking about where its next production facilities will be built — and the U.S. looks like a prime candidate.
“For us, I think it’s inevitable eventually to do something locally,” Derek Stilwell, commercial leader for North American offshore wind at GE Renewable Energy, said Friday in New York.
A GE spokesperson later clarified that Stilwell was talking about the broader supply chain bringing investment to the U.S., and not GE specifically.*
"It's premature to talk about whether GE will bring additional U.S. manufacturing capacity to the U.S. until the market matures and the company signs additional agreements to supply turbines," the spokesperson said.
For years, offshore wind executives have said the U.S. needed a larger pipeline of projects to warrant a local turbine factory. Europe’s mature supply chain is expected to provide many of the most valuable components for the first wave of American projects.
But with a 25-gigawatt pipeline now in play in U.S. waters, and numerous East Coast states having made significant commitments to offshore wind, the conversation about local factories is taking on a new light.
Local-content requirements for offshore wind projects can push up prices, Stilwell said, speaking at an event hosted by the American Wind Energy Association. But local factories can also help to offset the cost of transporting huge offshore wind equipment across the Atlantic Ocean.
GE, a relative newcomer to the offshore wind business, currently operates two factories for the market, both in France. The company has a nacelle plant in Saint-Nazaire, at the mouth of the Loire River, where it recently completed the first hub for its 12-megawatt Haliade-X model. And it has an offshore blade plant in Cherbourg, along the English Channel.
In July, GE announced plans to build a new offshore wind factory in China’s Guangdong province, expected to be up and running in late 2021.
“There’s a window right now where the existing capacity can serve [demand],” Stilwell said. “But increasing demand in Europe, increasing demand in Asia and the demand here in the U.S. mean that eventually we’ll need to build additional capacity.”
Last month, GE landed the first orders for its Haliade-X platform, with Ørsted planning to deploy 1,200 megawatts of the turbines at its Ocean Wind and Skipjack projects off Maryland and New Jersey between 2022 and 2024.
Less than two weeks later, GE announced another 3.6-gigawatt order for a trio of projects known as Dogger Bank in the U.K., developed by Equinor and SSE Renewables.
GE’s decisions on future factory locations will be “driven by the orders we get,” Stilwell said. “What we’re seeing now is the first large orders signed [in the U.S.], which means we need to support the developers in meeting their local-content commitments.”
“We’ll move as fast as we can in the next phase, as costs permit.”
GE is not the only offshore turbine supplier to have won a big order in the U.S. market. Vineyard Wind chose MHI Vestas for its 800-megawatt project off Massachusetts, while Ørsted handed Siemens Gamesa a 1.7-gigawatt order for three projects set to deliver power into New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Ørsted, the world’s leading offshore wind developer, has committed to helping German foundation manufacturer EEW establish a factory in Paulsboro, New Jersey, as part of its winning bid for a 1.1-gigawatt project in the state.
GE makes nacelles for onshore wind turbines in Pensacola, Florida, in addition to operating several blade factories in the central U.S.
The company reentered the offshore wind market through its 2015 acquisition of Alstom's power and grids businesses. Despite the recent flurry of big orders for the Haliade-X, GE lags far behind Siemens Gamesa and MHI Vestas in terms of installed capacity and committed orders.
*Story and headline are updated based on clarification from GE.