The next generation of wind turbines may not have problem-prone gearboxes if Siemens and GE have anything to say about it. The wind turbine manufacturers have both recently invested in direct drive turbine systems that replace gearboxes with low-speed generators. According to Siemens, the technology dramatically cuts down on the generator’s weight–and increases turbine reliability and efficiency.

While GE has only recently invested cash in direct drive turbine technology, Siemens has already installed a direct drive three megawatt turbine prototype in Denmark. The system’s gearbox-less design cuts down on its weight–the entire turbine nacelle weighs 73 metric tons. That’s 12 metric tons less than Siemens’ gear-driven 2.3 megawatt turbine. The reduction in weight is mostly thanks to permanent magnets found inside the generators’ rotor. These magnets are lighter than the copper coils found inside turbines with gearboxes.

Siemens plans to install 10 more prototypes before launching full-scale production in 2011. GE is a bit further behind–the company plans to commercialize its direct drive turbine in 2012.

+ MIT Technology Review

Photo Credit: Siemens