John Lavelle: Engineer CEO Led GE Team Launch of 'Gamechanging' Offshore Wind Turbine
John Lavelle, a 37-year veteran of U.S. manufacturing pioneer General Electric, admits the behemoth’s move into clean energy manufacturing “is not for the faint of heart.”
But the CEO of its growing offshore wind unit has high hopes the corporation’s $400-million investment in the record-setting Haliade-X giant offshore wind turbine will net big rewards in carving a role for GE in what is seen as a $30.5-billion global turbine market by 2025, and as an emerging design and construction arena in the U.S. and abroad.
While the aviation and power sector innovator has had its financial challenges in recent years, Lavelle says GE is betting on its R&D and manufacturing prowess in clean energy.
“Not many companies can do this, but we can do it with confidence because we have done it before,” says the mechanical engineer. "While it’s been a challenge designing a turbine that has the largest rotor and biggest blades on the market, it’s been a much more manageable challenge because we’ve been able to draw on the research and engineering capabilities of all of GE ... to bring the Haliade-X from design to reality."
Do More With Less
Lavelle took over the offshore unit in 2016 and led a 600-person corporate team launch last year of the nearly 850-ft-tall turbine with three rotors each spanning about 720 ft. and an industry leading capacity factor of 63%, he says.
"The ability to produce more power from a single turbine means a smaller number of turbines in the total farm, which translates to less expenditure for the plant and reduced risk in project execution, as installation time is reduced," Lavalle notes. "It also simplifies operation and maintenance. All of this reduces the investment and operation cost for developers, makes offshore wind projects more profitable, and ultimately lowers the cost of electricity for consumers."
Said Lavelle at a recent industry event: “Haliade-X’s thrust generation is equivalent to a Boeing 737 with four engines." GE estimates that a single turbine can power up to 15,000 homes.
The mega-machine now is being subject to tough operating tests in Holland, the U.K. and at Boston’s Clean Energy Center. Once testing is complete, GE expects to begin serial manufacturing in time to ship orders in 2021 for wind farms in the U.S. and elsewhere that are set to begin commercial operation in 2022. Lavalle says GE is "on track" to gain all certifications needed to commercialize Haliade-X by next year.
The turbine, whose name derives from Greek mythology, already is winning more current plaudits, including its selection by Time magazine in 2019 as one of the world’s best inventions, with the media outlet terming it “a piece in the puzzle to slow global heating.”
More critically, Haliade-X and GE are moving the U.S. into the European-dominated turbine marketplace.
The machine will make its global commercial debut in America, purchased by mega-developer Orsted to power two East Coast wind farms, including the 1,100-MW Ocean Wind project in offshore New Jersey.
“Addition of 12-MW turbines … positions us to further improve reliability of energy produced by green, offshore wind in the U.S.,” says Orsted North America President Thomas Brostrom.
The turbine’s appeal also crossed the Atlantic, with its selection last year to power the U.K.’s record 3.6-GW Dogger Bank project. GE also has committed to build a new Haliade-X manufacturing plant in China.
Lavalle credits past senior roles at GE such as managing its Global Project Organization's $75-billion backlog that have helped him "better understand the global characteristics of the offshore world market and recognize the important role that game-changing technologies, such as the Haliade-X, can make in positioning GE" to serve worldwide customers.
"Growth will be driven by the compelling value proposition of offshore wind, which is a clean, renewable source of reliable power near high concentrations of population in coastal cities that need power and are particularly sensitive to the impact of climate change," says Lavelle "Technology step changes like the Haliade-X are driving down the cost of generating power from offshore wind dramatically, further helping it to compete with other sources of power generation."
GE has been selected preferred wind turbine supplier for 4.8GW of potential projects, "which demonstrates the confidence they have in this new technology," the CEO contends. "This is one more sign that the Haliade-X is the right turbine at the right time."
Even with competitive pressure keener and returns far out, market analyst Wood Mackenzie sees recent Haliade-X deals as a “promising restart” for GE in a new power sector.
For Lavelle, a Holyoke, Mass., native and University of Massachusetts-Lowell engineering graduate now based in Nantes, France, “this business is a personal as well as a professional endeavor. I want to leave an energy system to my children and grandchildren that is cleaner, safer and more sustainable.”