WEG spins first Brazil-developed wind turbine prototype, By Alexandre Spatuzza, Recharge News in Sao Paulo Friday, May 22 2015 Updated: Friday, May 22 2015
The WEG prototype turbine
Brazilian turbine maker WEG has started operating commercially the first prototype of a wind turbine developed inside Brazil, ahead of a 2017 launch of a 3.3MW model.
The 2.1MW turbine is located in southern Brazil, between a pilot 3MW solar PV plant and a 875MW coal-fired power complex operated by Tractebel, a unit of GDF Suez, which partnered with WEG for the R$160m ($52m) R&D project.
WEG has been developing the prototype since August 2013 when it signed a licensing agreement with US turbine maker Northern Power System (NPS).
The operating turbine – a gearless machine, with a rotor size of 110-metres, mounted on a 120-metre concrete tower – will be tested over the next 18 months. It will later be upgraded to a higher capacity to supply local demand for bigger turbines.
WEG will test components developed with local suppliers and continue developing the bigger model.
“We have some new projects of nationalised equipment that we want to use in the 2.1MW model to test some concepts. Our turbine has 80% of local content,” WEG's wind power director, João Paulo Gualberto da Silva told Recharge.
Among items that WEG wants to test are the cooling systems – needed to meet higher tropical and subtropical temperatures – inverters and control panels, all of which were developed in WEG's laboratories for 18 months before building the prototype.
WEG will observe the performance of blades and components, with bearings considered critical, said Silva.
WEG also wants to certify the machine, and has worked with foreign engineering consulting firms and research centers such as Germany's Fraunhofer Institute and Windnovation, Holland's Pontis Engineering and England's RBB Engineering.
Pontis – which tested the blades for WEG, supplied by Brazilian blade maker Aeris – said tests were successful and certification should be granted in June.
Overall, 60 engineers from WEG and its partners worked on the project, said Silva.
Although power regulator ANEEL authorised commercial operations on May 21, the prototype has been spinning since February.
Brazil's wind power sector launched in 2009 with the first competitive auctions, but the local turbine industry only started in earnest a couple of years ago as the January 2016, local-content deadline draws closer.
The seven turbine makers active in the country, which includes WEG, are this year concluding the construction of nacelle assembly units, building out local supply chains and in some cases operating their own tower factories.
But the race is on to improve performance, adapting to local conditions as well as increasing machine capacity. Although most turbines sold in Brazil have capacities of 2MW, Spain's Acciona already produces locally its 3MW, AW3000, and market leaders GE and Alstom are preparing to sell bigger capacity models.
WEG, which delivered its first turbines at the end of 2014, is currently producing the 2.1MW turbines in its plant in southern Brazil, that has capacity to assemble 100 units a year.
A traditional supplier of generating and electric equipment to the power, industrial and oil and gas sectors, WEG has been looking to supply to Brazil's wind and solar power since 2012, relying on its strong R&D investment track record. In the future, WEG, which also invests abroad in other areas, plans to export the machines to Latin America and Africa.
WEG posted net revenues of R$7.8bn in 2014 of which it invested 2.9% on R&D, one of the highest levels in Brazil.
Silva believes that WEG can offer a technical differential to its competitors not only because its machine has a high local content levels, but also because local development of the turbine make it better adapted to local conditions.
Meanwhile, the high local-content level and local development reduce the foreign currency risks on price, which in general affect 20% of the turbine's value in Brazil because around 40% of parts of other foreign-developed models are imported.
Of the active foreign turbine makers in Brazil, only GE has a local R&D center, which was inaugurated this year in Rio de Janeiro. Bankrupt Argentine wind turbine maker, Impsa, also has a research center, but the company ceased activities in mid 2014.
All others rely on machines developed in the US or Europe, and adapting them to local conditions requires constantly feeding information to R&D centres abroad.
WEG has so far sold 523MW and is working at full capacity to meet orders through 2017.
“The 2.1MW model will still be a vanguard model,” said Silva.