While G.E. was a big player in land-based turbines, the American company’s presence was negligible in the larger offshore units until it bought a group of energy businesses, including the St.-Nazaire factory, from France’s Alstom in 2015.
Seeing the likelihood of growth in several large countries along with limited competition, G.E., which has been moving to exit businesses like health care and oil field services, decided to increase its presence in the offshore arena. “Not only was the industry going to be big,” said John Lavelle, chief executive of G.E.’s Offshore Wind business. “With technology and scale we could help it move faster.”
Ever bigger machines have been a major factor in bringing down offshore costs. Large turbines generate more electricity. That means fewer of them are required, bringing down the overall expense of planting turbines on the seabed, work boat rentals and other factors that drive up the costs of generating electricity in a marine environment.
G.E.’s new turbine will be roughly 25 times as powerful as the first machines installed offshore in 1991. “The rule of the game has always been in offshore that bigger was better,” said Henrik Stiesdal, who led development of those first machines at a Danish company called Bonus Energy that Siemens later acquired. “When we had a turbine that was bigger than what Vestas had to offer, we were successful.”
Mr. Stiesdal and other experts caution that ever larger turbines bring problems of their own. In what is known as the “square cube” law, expanding the surface area of the blades to capture more wind, for instance, drastically increases weight, putting structural stress on enormous components that weigh dozens of tons.
In an effort to gain expertise in blades, G.E. bought the Danish company LM Wind Power in 2016 for €1.5 billion. LM has been among the leaders in making ever larger blades feasible through the use of lightweight materials incorporating carbon and polyester fiber.
While developers, who will be G.E.’s customers, welcome the entry of another player to compete with the existing duopoly, they seem to be waiting to see how the turbine performs. “I find it interesting that G.E. has announced a next generation turbine,” said Michael Hannibal, a former head of Siemens’ offshore business unit who is now a partner at Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, an investment firm that is one of the owners of the Massachusetts offshore project. “It can produce really well, but may be not competitive if the cost” is too high.