Three industry leaders join to scale onshore and offshore applications and open new regions for economical wind power
Keystone Tower Systems is teaming up with energy and manufacturing sector leaders Steve Lockard, Larry Oglesby, and Peter Bierden to expand its patented spiral-welded steel towers across the wind power industry.
Keystone's tapered spiral-welded technology significantly drops the cost and time to build both onshore and offshore towers, adding strength and saving steel versus traditional can-welded towers. Its towers will enable turbines to reach higher for stronger winds while solving transportation constraints and opening new regions to wind power.
Towers for wind turbines are already a nearly $10 billion global annual market. That could triple by the end of the decade, with the U.S. government newly recommitted to meeting Paris global warming commitments, and even more aggressive net-zero carbon pledges by the Biden Administration, state governments, and many leading corporations.
Lockard, recently CEO of TPI Composites, Inc. (Nasdaq:TPIC) and past chair of the American Wind Association (now American Clean Power), joined the board in October 2020 and now serves as Keystone's Chairman of the Board. He led the team that built TPI into the leading global independent supplier of wind turbine blades, growing the business to a value of over $1 billion. TPI operates factories in the U.S, Mexico, Turkey, China, and India, with additional engineering centers in Germany and Denmark.
"Scaling up automated spiral welding of taller towers will support the wind industry's next phase of cost reduction and growth as we map onto the need to drive the electricity sector toward net-zero goals," Lockard said.
Oglesby joins Keystone as Chief Operating Officer. He has deep manufacturing expertise, including improving operations in hundreds of manufacturing facilities across the globe. He has been a leader in world-class manufacturing organizations like Pratt & Whitney and Danaher. He has also served as a thought leader in manufacturing processes, team building and creating highly-functioning organizations for both McKinsey & Company and Accenture. Oglesby's expertise and experience will guide Keystone's scaling of multiple production facilities in the U.S. and overseas.
As the new Chief Growth Officer, Bierden brings decades of experience scaling industrial businesses including almost 20 years with General Electric. He was at the forefront of GE's entry into wind energy, working with customers, suppliers, and installers to implement wind projects around the world. Additional operational experiences leading Quality for GE Energy and as COO for an electrical construction business make him uniquely qualified to bring the full capabilities of Keystone to its customers.
"After years of preparation, we're excited to have these three industry leaders join our team to help drive and execute our strategic growth plans over the coming years," said Eric Smith, Keystone's cofounder, and CEO. "By bringing together experts in tower design, technology development, and manufacturing execution, we're rewriting the book on how wind towers are designed and built."
Denver-based Keystone is already well along its path of transforming the way steel wind towers are made, with over 100 patents in 30 countries born from research that Smith and company cofounder Rosalind Takata started after meeting at MIT.
Searching for innovations that could dramatically increase the cost-effectiveness of wind power, they developed a way to tailor the spiral-welded technology already proven in the pipe industry to the wind industry.
"Spiral welding makes possible a new level of automation, resulting in faster production and higher quality," said Smith. "The result is a tower that can be built 10 times faster than conventional towers, cost-effectively reach heights of 160 meters and beyond, and can still be installed with existing cranes and identical interfacing with turbine hubs."
A successful sub-scale demonstration project has been in operation since 2015. In 2019, the company secured Series B financing and is nearing completion of its first scale factory in Pampa, Texas. By 2023, the company plans to offer the option of cost-effective tower fabrication on-site for wind farms across the country.
Keystone was awarded up to $5 million by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2019 to develop mobile manufacturing equipment that can make spiral wind towers at the site of onshore wind farms. This avoids transportation constraints that limit can-welded towers to sizes that can be moved on a highway.
A single machine will use steel shipped flat to the site to complete the joining, rolling, fit-up, welding, and severing for continuous production of tapered steel tower shells. These on-site manufacturing facilities will be able to be deployed on short notice and turn out a megawatt-scale tower per day.
Keystone's technology is enabling the potential of taller towers to which the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has devoted years of research, culminating in the May 2019 report, "Increasing Wind Turbine Tower Heights: Opportunities and Challenges."