As Siemens Energy took full control of its Spanish wind turbine joint venture last month, it said it was seeing the “first moves in the right direction” at a division that had suffered a string of profit warnings in recent years.
But within two weeks it revealed that quality issues at Siemens Gamesa were far worse than feared and could cost €1bn to fix, sending shares in the German company down 30 per cent.
“You can imagine what the state of my mood is,” said Siemens Energy chief executive Christian Bruch as he pulled the group’s profit guidance for 2023, describing the problems as “more severe than I thought possible”.
It is the latest setback for a company and a sector hit for the past few years by rising costs, fierce competition and costly technical problems that have led to heavy losses despite surging demand for clean energy.
“I think the industry has driven in certain parts themselves to a business model which needs to be reworked,” Bruch said. “That has started.”
Siemens Energy has released few details about the turbine flaws other than that they involved bearings and rotor blades and could affect up to 30 per cent of the models in question.
But people familiar with the matter said the problems were related to the company’s flagship 5. X turbine, along with its predecessor, the 4. X, that entered the market between 2017 and 2019.
Released in 2019, the 5. Xs are Siemens Gamesa’s largest turbines, with rotor blades spanning up to 170 metres and a generation capacity of 5.8 megawatts — enough to meet the electricity needs of roughly 5,000 households each.
Siemens Gamesa has sold about 15GW of the two platforms combined, according to people with knowledge of the matter, a figure that implies customers have bought more than 2,000 units.
A special internal committee is carrying out a review, with its focus expected to include suppliers that are stretched around the world, including in China.
Bruch has spoken of an “urgent requirement to fix the corporate culture” at Siemens Gamesa, which was formed in 2017 in a merger of Siemens’ wind business and Spain’s Gamesa. “Too much has been swept under the carpet,” he said in June.
He and Siemens Gamesa chief executive Jochen Eickholt are both under pressure, although people familiar with the matter said the pair still enjoyed the full trust of the supervisory board at Siemens Energy, which is 25 per cent owned by German industrial conglomerate Siemens.
The problems at one of the world’s largest turbine suppliers have cast a cloud across the industry at a time when wind farm developers are scrambling to build new projects to meet booming demand.
The 5. X platform accounted for 74 per cent of Siemens Gamesa’s 1GW onshore wind order intake in the first quarter of 2023, according to its May accounts.
“It’s very embarrassing for Siemens Gamesa,” said one European wind industry insider. “I’ve heard from several projects that are a bit in the [lurch] now . . . financials are getting strained by the situation. This is bad for the energy transition.”
Iberdrola, one of the world’s largest wind developers, has bought 11 of the 5. X turbines for a project in Spain and has been assured by Siemens Gamesa that any problems will be resolved ahead of installation, according to a memo to investors seen by the Financial Times. It had not noticed any technical problems on its fleet so far, the memo added.
Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, a Danish investor with 120 gigawatts of renewable energy, including several wind projects, said it was “working proactively with Siemens to understand any potential impacts on our development portfolio”, although it does not have any affected products in its current fleet.
Swedish wind developer Eolus said it had not noticed any “serious qualitative issues so far” with Siemens Gamesa products, which were being delivered as normal. It added it was confident the company would “retain its focus on quality” as one of the “most respected suppliers in the industry”.
Brazil’s Essentia Energy and Sweden’s Rabbalshede Kraft, both of which were announced in December 2020 as buyers of the 5. X turbines, did not return requests for comment.
One large UK wind developer raised concerns the move would push up turbine prices at a time when developers say they are being squeezed by low fixed-price electricity sales agreements and windfall taxes.
“The difficulty is that the problems will limit competition,” the developer told the Financial Times. “If they have to redevelop components or revisit designs this could cause delays. Competitors will take advantage of this, but prices will go up.”
Rivals to Siemens Gamesa have also suffered quality problems in recent years, with the industry scrambling to produce bigger turbines at low prices despite rising costs.
“Turbine prices fell sharply in 2017, which was then followed by the industry introducing new technology and turning to emerging markets for suppliers to keep costs down,” said Akash Gupta, analyst at JPMorgan. “Some of the quality and design issues in the industry now are the result of that.”
That dynamic is changing, with General Electric moving towards greater standardisation and wind farm developers also starting to get higher offtake prices. “There has been a correction in the market,” said Tim Evans, partner at Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.
Deirdre Cooper, head of sustainable equities at investment manager Ninety-One, said Siemens Gamesa’s problems might turn out to be “helpful in the long run” by prompting a focus back on quality. “We have had such price competition — this will be supportive of pricing going forward.”
For now, though, Siemens Energy will need to focus on containing the damage. Shares in the company, which is due to update investors on August 7, remain more than 30 per cent below their price before the problems were announced.
“We have a handful of failures, and now I have to derive from that an indication of what to expect over the next 20 years,” Eickholt said as he revealed the problems in June. “That’s what makes it so fraught.”