Technology Review has an article on GE and Siemens adopting direct drive wind turbines - Wind Turbines Shed Their Gears.
Wind turbine manufacturers are turning away from the industry-standard gearboxes and generators in a bid to boost the reliability and reduce the cost of wind power.
Siemens, the world's largest turbine manufacturer by volume, has begun selling a three-megawatt turbine using a so-called direct-drive system that replaces the conventional high-speed generator with a low-speed generator that eliminates the need for a gearbox. And last month, General Electric announced an investment of 340 million euros in manufacturing facilities to build its own four-megawatt direct-drive turbines for offshore wind farms.
Most observers say the industry's shift to direct-drive is a response to highly publicized gearbox failures. But Henrik Stiesdal, chief technology officer of Siemens's wind power unit, says that gearbox problems are overblown. He says Siemens is adopting direct-drive as a means of generating more energy at lower cost. "Turbines can be made more competitive through direct-drive," says Stiesdal.
Siemens's plans hinge on a new design that reduces the weight of the system's generator. In conventional wind turbines, the gearbox increases the speed of the wind-driven rotor several hundred fold, which radically reduces the size of the generator required. Direct-drive generators operate at the same speed as the turbine's blades and must therefore be much bigger--over four meters in diameter for Siemens's three-megawatt turbine. Yet Siemens claims that the turbine's entire nacelle weighs just 73 metric tons--12 tons less than that on its less powerful, gear-driven 2.3-megawatt turbines.