One of the world’s largest wind developers and the largest U.S. shipbuilder will work together to engineer and build wind turbines specifically designed to withstand harsh marine environments. The Oct. 6 announcement from Madrid, Spain-based Gamesa and Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp. was one of many significant announcements made earlier this month at the American Wind Energy Association’s first-ever offshore wind conference.

 Gamesa’s venture with Northrup will push the Spanish firm to develop new turbine blades suitable for marine use.
Photo: Courtesy Gamesa
Gamesa’s venture with Northrup will push the Spanish firm to develop new turbine blades suitable for marine use.

Gamesa and Northrop say they will develop and test two 5-MW wind turbines by the end of 2012. One will be installed either on the Atlantic Coast or in the Great Lakes, while a second will be tested on land. Gamesa already is working on a 6-MW to 7-MW offshore turbine it expects to deploy by 2014. About 40 employees from both companies will begin work in October at a new site in Hampton Roads, Va.

“This brings together some very important complementary strengths,” says Margaret Mitchell-Jones, a Northrop spokeswoman. “Gamesa is a global leader in the wind industry, and we have expertise in building systems that last for a long time in harsh marine environments.”

David Rosenberg, Gamesa spokesman, says that, traditionally, developers have modified onshore turbines to operate offshore. “We don’t believe that’s the best approach,” he says. Gamesa currently has no offshore wind farms, but the company is ranked fourth in the world for total onshore wind capacity.

It is the first renewable-energy venture for Northrop, which last year announced a joint venture with Paris-based Areva to build and operate a Newport News, Va., nuclear-reactor component plant.

In addition to Northrop’s shipbuilding experience, Gamesa wanted to work with the company because of its heavy logistics capabilities. The U.S. has no existing infrastructure to install the heavy foundations and wind turbines in water. “We’re going to be relying on their expertise,” Rosenberg says.

The same day as the joint-venture announcement, Ken Salazar, secretary of the Dept. of Interior, signed the nation’s offshore wind lease with the developers of the Cape Wind project. The following day, the Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory released an optimistic outlook on the future of offshore wind development in the U.S.

The NREL study indicated that while costs for offshore wind farms will be higher than onshore wind farms, higher winds, larger turbine blades and faster rotating speeds can all compensate for those higher costs. The NREL study showed that 54,000 MW of power could come from offshore wind farms by 2030. Those wind farms could generate an estimated $200 billion in economic activity and create more than 43,000 permanent jobs, according to proponents.

“The DOE and Interior and all the other federal agencies are taking the right steps toward a positive market,” Rosenberg says. “We look forward to making the U.S. a sustainable market. That’s really important.”