Minimal Wind, Maximum Power

on July 28, 2011 at 4:20 PM

The fifth largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world with installations in 28 countries, Suzlon has reason to worry about the efficiency of wind turbines.

It’s most recent turbine, the S9X will make it cheaper and easier to produce electricity from less wind, Suzlon’s Chief Technology Officer John O’Halloran told a small audience in New York on Thursday.

Turbines that capture very high wind speeds are abundantly produced, O’Halloran said, but not many turbines are produced to efficiently convert weaker winds, like Class II or III wind speeds into electricity. Class VII winds are the strongest and older Suzlon models, like S88, could produce about as much electricity as the new turbine from those stronger winds.

“It’s not a revolutionary project, but we focused on several small areas that needed improvement,” Suzlon North America CEO Andy Cukurs told the New York event. The S9X, O’Halloran said, is lighter as it uses less steel than older models, and is also easier to construct and has better lightning protection.

O’Halloran added that Suzlon’s R&D has shown the S9X, a utility scale model, to be the most cost-effective size for a turbine. Smaller rooftop and distributed generation models do not provide the same return on investment. Larger turbines are too expensive to ship and transport.

Chatting With The CEO

Cukurs spoke quite candidly about his leadership of the global energy company. Wind power is going to be a necessity as Americans consume more electricity in the coming years, he said. Looking at his own children’s behavior he said is enough evidence that electrical consumption is only going to grow. He also noted that if electric vehicles are adopted in “a serious way,” the grid needs to find new sources of generation and fast.

In Utility Nightmares Of Electric Cars, Breaking Energy spoke with Jim Pauley, Schneider Electric‘s new senior vice president for External Affairs and Government Relations, on some of the challenges the electric grid might face with wide-spread adoption of electric vehicles.

But regulators, he said, are making it difficult for investors to lay down their money because the messages being sent are confusing.

“The biggest issue we have is uncertainty,” Cukurs said.

Tax incentives are limited in how much they help companies because unlike feed-in-tariffs, widely used in European countries to incentivize development of renewables, they generally only help a company that’s already making money and has already secured financing.

The wind industry he said was hurt by the recession when some of the major investors in wind could no longer provide funding. He said he hopes that installation of new turbines will help boost the economy by adding manufacturing jobs in rural areas.

But with turbines located mostly in remote areas, wind development is also limited by location of existence of transmission lines which are more abundant in the East, Cukurs said, where wind also happens to be weaker. Independent system operators need to make a concerted effort to incorporate wind because they can transport electricity over large geographic regions.

“If you left it to the small utilities, you’d never have an efficient power grid,” he said.

Nevertheless, Suzlon has been sufficiently successful over the last few years, and the new S9X may allow Suzlon to install turbines in areas that were not previously considered sufficient wind pockets.

“I’m not some heavy environmentalist,” he said. “I do this because it’s good business.”

Join in on the energy conversation through the Breaking Energy twitter feed and get updates on the latest in the industry news.