Wind energy continues to dominate in this segment and remains, far and away, the world’s largest market for glass-fiber-reinforced composites. The offshore segment, and in particular, the prospects for floating turbines (with blades and floating foundations of composites) were top of mind.
The European Wind Energy Assn. (EWEA, Brussels, Belgium) said in July 2013 that 277 new offshore wind turbines, totaling 1,045 megawatts (MW), were “fully grid connected” in Europe during the first six months of 2013 — double that during the same period in 2012. In September 2013, EWEA declared floating turbine designs cost-competitive with fixed-bottom designs in waters more than 160 ft/50m deep, noting that if challenges are successfully met, deepwater wind farms could be operating by 2017. Floating turbines in North Sea deepwater alone reportedly could power Europe four times over. Offshore wind in Europe could be providing 145 million households with renewable electricity and employing 318,000 people by 2030, while providing energy security, technology exports, yet adding no greenhouse gases. But EWEA warned that a clear and stable legislative framework must be in place for the decade that begins in 2020, with an ironclad 2030 renewable energy target. This must be backed by an industrial strategy for offshore wind including support for R&D, said Jacopo Moccia, EWEA’s head of policy analysis.
Similar sentiments were echoed in North America as wind energy advocates in the U.S. expressed relief when the U.S. Congress — still deeply divided on the issues of taxation and spending reduction — struck a deal in the early hours of 2013 that not only averted, temporarily, what pundits had called the “fiscal cliff,” but also extended for one year the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for community and offshore projects. That event reversed a slide in U.S. wind-farm development and opened the way for implementation of the Obama Administration’s strategy to develop more domestic energy sources. But the American Wind Energy Assn. (Washington, D.C.) warned that the PTC would expire again at the end of 2013 unless it could be renewed by Congress. Further, only renewable energy projects that start construction before Dec. 31 were be eligible for the tax credit. Tom Kiernan, AWEA’s chief executive, said, “We want to continue that momentum, but need predictable policies for the industry to avoid future slowdowns like the one experienced at the beginning of 2013.”
Notable among 2013’s PTC-enabled activities, were seven offshore wind awards for projects in Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Virginia, announced by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Dec. 12. 2012. Part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DoE) broader efforts to launch an offshore wind industry in the U.S., the installations in state and federal waters were slated for commercial operation by 2017. Each project will receive up to $4 million (USD) to complete its engineering, site evaluation and planning phase and would be eligible for up to $47 million over four years, subject to congressional action on appropriations.
By October, however, the most notable of those projects, Hywind, a visionary plan to put floating turbines off the cost of Maine in deep water off limits to seabed-anchored conventional turbines, had been abandoned. Statoil (Stavanger, Norway) said the decision to demobilize all activities and pull resources from the project reflects what the company called "changes in the framework conditions in the state, uncertainty around the commercial framework," and said that the schedule implications of project delays made the project outcome too uncertain to justify more effort. Maine's Republican governor, widely quoted as saying the project was too expensive and generally known to have little interest in wind-energy development, was seen by energy industry observers as the project's most significant obstacle. Statoil said it would henceforth focus on a sister Hywind concept in Scotland, a project the company had matured in parallel with Hywind Maine during the past three years.
That bad bit of news aside, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) released on Oct. 23 a new report showing progress for the U.S. offshore wind energy market in 2012, including the completion of two commercial lease auctions for federal Wind Energy Areas and 11 commercial-scale U.S. projects, representing more than 3,800 megawatts (MW) of capacity reaching an advanced stage of development. Further, the report highlighted global trends toward building offshore turbines in deeper waters and using larger, more efficient turbines in offshore wind farms, increasing the amount of electricity delivered to consumers.
The 2013 U.S. Offshore Wind Market and Economic Analysis, authored for the DoE by the Navigant Consortium (Chicago, Ill.) said 11 offshore wind projects, representing 3,824 MW of capacity, are in “an advanced stage of development” in the U.S. alone. That number includes projects whose principals have signed power purchase agreement, have approval for an interim or commercial lease in state or federal waters, or have conducted baseline or geophysical studies at the proposed site.
Globally, the report noted that offshore wind development continues to move farther from shore into deeper waters, with parallel increases in turbine sizes and hub heights that contribute to greater turbine efficiency.
The average turbine size for advanced-stage, planned projects in the United States is expected to range between 4 and 5 MW, which is larger than turbines being used in land-based applications.
Developers continue to test a variety of platform and foundation types as the industry seeks to address deeper waters, varying seabed conditions, increasing turbine sizes, and the increased severity of wind and wave loading at offshore wind projects.
Challenges faced by U.S. offshore wind developers are cost-competitiveness, a lack of infrastructure (i.e., offshore transmission and purpose-built ports and vessels), and uncertain and lengthy regulatory processes.
However, the report noted progress on transmission infrastructure projects in 2013 included the Atlantic Wind Connection and the New Jersey Energy Link.
In Japan, floating offshore turbines are likely to define that country’s wind energy future. Lacking a shallow shelf-type shoreline, Japan’s energy planners moored a two-megawatt floating offshore wind turbine in southwestern Japan near Nagasaki prefecture in a pilot project for the Ministry of the Environment, the group announced Oct 28, according to a Bloomberg news report. The move followed installation of an experimental 100-kW floating turbine in 2012. A group led by Marubeni Corp. (8002) said in late 2013 that it has installed a floating turbine off the coast of Fukushima and plans to start operations in November.
The U.S. generated 3.5 percent of its electricity from wind energy in 2012. In Iowa and South Dakota, wind now meets more than 20 percent of the states’ electricity needs. Iowa, which leads the country in percentage of energy from wind, has been responsible for 14 percent, or 1,050 MW, of the 7,500 MW of new wind projects this year. The AWEA reported in November 2013 that U.S. electric utilities have signed more than 5,670 megawatts (MW) of new power purchase agreements and received approval to build more than 1,870 MW of utility-owned wind farms. All told, 7,500 MW of new wind projects spurred wind turbine manufacturing companies to increase hiring, and driving construction starts. An estimated 1,100 MW of new projects broke ground during the third quarter.
Although the European Union, the U.S. and China dominate wind energy development, the oft’ described Rest of the World is getting into the game. Brazil's planners are aiming to raise the share of wind power in the country's generating mix to 10 percent by 2021. Brazil wants to boost its generating capacity by 50 percent over the next 10 years. Wind firms account for only 3 percent of the country’s energy-generating capacity, but that figure was reached since 2009. A series of wind farms are already operating, or are in progress, in Brazil’s windiest regions. Windy sites are so plentiful that energy gurus hope wind projects will add enough capacity power 4 million additional households each year. Indeed, even Honda Motor Co. announced Oct. 30 that its Brazilian subsidiary will build a nine-turbine wind farm to generate renewable energy to provide electricity for automobile production in the South American nation. Honda Energy do Brasil Ltda. plans to begin the operation of the wind farm in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state in Brazil, in September 2014.
Uruguay, not on the tip of every wind-energy observer’s tongue, will soon benefit from two wind farms in that country’s southern Maldonado region, courtesy of the Inter-American Development Bank and a Chinese government fund that will cover $132.6 million in upfront costs. The Carape I & II wind farms will have a total 90 megawatts of capacity and include 31 turbines from Aarhus, Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems A/S They will be developed by Argentina’s Corp. America SA and Spain’s Grupo Empresarial San Jose (GSJ).
And Enel Green Power (Rome, Italy) has secured contracts for two wind projects with a total capacity of 199 MW as part of South Africa's third renewable energy auction. The 110-MW Gibson Bay and 89-MW Cookhouse wind projects will be built in the Eastern Cape region. Enel was the third company to reveal that it has won contracts as part of the auction. Mainstream Renewable Power (Dublin, Ireland) announced three wind farms, amounting to 360 MW. China’s Longyuan Power Group Ltd. (Beijing) said that it has been awarded contracts to build two wind projects with a total capacity of 244 MW.
Renewable energy isn’t just about wind. Other composites markets include marine power sources, such as wave and tidal energy generators. In August 2013, Alstom (Levallois-Perret, France) reports that its full-scale tidal turbine in Orkney, Scotland, has reached a full nominal power of 1 MW after a series of gradual increases in power. The turbine was immersed in January 2013 at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney. The turbine connected to the grid has now generated more than 10 MWh of electricity, in actual operating conditions. Both are major milestones in the development of the tidal stream energy. The endurance and reliability of the system will be tested into 2014, then tests in pilot farms will follow, prior to the start of full commercial production. Alstom’s tidal turbine has a 22m/72-ft long nacelle and weighs 330, 690 lb (150 metric tonnes). Its rotor has three pitch-adjustable blades and a diameter of 18m/59 ft. The tidal turbine is capable of floating. The unit operates fully submerged with no surface-piercing part, in a water depth of about 40m/131 ft. The nacelle can rotate around a vertical axis to face the incoming tide at an optimal angle, and thus extract the maximum energy potential. In September, MeyGen Ltd. (London, U.K.) announced plans to build an initial demonstration array of as many as six turbines. Construction could start in early 2014, with turbines commissioned in 2015 — the first phase of a hoped-for larger project,
In the U.S., the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition (OREC, Darnestown, Md.) reported that Senate and House Appropriations Committees have approved their respective fiscal 2013 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bills. The Senate funding measure included $59 million for the DoE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Water Power program, while the House bill allotted $45 million for the program. Significantly, the Senate measure was $39 million above the President’s request and provides $44 million for Marine and Hydrokinetic (MHK) renewable energy R&D. The House allocation of $45 million marked a $25 million increase above the request with language designating $25 million for MHK.
In Europe, which has a longer history in tidal energy, composite material supplier Gurit (Isle of Wight, U.K.) made its first foray into precommercial-scale ocean energy as a part supplier, designing and manufacturing the blades for ANDRITZ HYDRO Hammerfest’s (Hammerfest, Norway) HS1000, a 1-MW tidal turbine. Now installed near the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), in Scotland, the horizontal-axis turbine is seated on the seabed and uses all-composite blades engineered and manufactured by Gurit. The blades feature a solid carbon-fiber composite spar, made form Gurit’s SparPreg material. An internal testing program furthered Gurit’s understanding of the seawater-saturated performance of epoxy composites and helped Gurit optimize its in-house engineering programs, to better analyze the unique structural features of a tidal blade. Commercial versions might be in the works.