The markets: Renewable energy (2016)

Wind energy continues to dominate in this segment. Although previously fastest-growing Europe shows signs of slowing wind farm growth, the US might finally move offshore, China, India and Brazil are hot, and the Rest of the World wants in.

Wind energy continues to dominate in this segment and reportedly remains, far and away, the world’s largest market for glass-fiber-reinforced composites (a claim, however, at odds with reports from CW’s sources within the printed circuit board industry — see “Electronics” under “Editor’s Picks”). It’s also competing with other heavy users, such as the aerospace industry, for carbon fiber, as blades get longer and blade builders look for ways to lightweight those increasingly massive structures without performance sacrifices (see "Carbon Fiber 2013 report, part 3: Wind energy" and "Wind turbine blades: Back to the future?"under Editor's Picks").

Worldwide, wind power generating capacity reached 392.9 GW by the end of June 2015, representing the potential to produce 4% of the world’s electricity, says the World Wind Energy Assn. (Bonn, Germany). That’s a lot of composite turbine blades. In the first six months of 2015, 21.7 GW were added, substantially higher than in the first halves of 2014 and 2013, when 17.6 GW and 13.9 GW, respectively, were added.

“The world market for wind power is booming like never before, and we expect new record installations for the total year 2015,” contends Stefan Gsänger, WWEA’s secretary general.

Principal markets are unchanged: China — with astonishing growth in 2015 of more than 10 GW within six months — and the US, Germany and India. China is expected to triple its installed wind capacity to 347.2 GW by 2025, according to market research firm GlobalData (London, UK). At the end of 2014, the country had a total installed capacity of 115.6 GW. According to a article dated Sept. 9, India was expected to continue hot wind energy development: Its cabinet has given its blessing to its National Institute of Wind Energy, for “aggressive” R&D on offshore wind development “to replicate the success of the onshore wind power development." 

In Europe, however, long the hottest growth center, “several … markets are now very flat,” Gsänger points out, adding that even “Germany expects a major slowdown in the coming one to two years …..”

Where will be the future growth? According to Gsänger, a top candidate is Brazil, which posted the highest 2015 growth rate of all, increasing total wind power capacity by 14% since January 2015. Installed capacity there could total 9 GW by year’s end, said the Associação Brasileira de Energia Eólica (Abeeolica, São Paulo, Brazil) in mid-September. With installed capacity of 6.8 GW across 270 wind farms in 11 states, Brazil was on track to complete others with a combined capacity of 2.7 GW in 2015, the group said. And 19 wind projects won contracts during Brazil's recent auction — 669.5 MW, expected online in 2018.

Brazil is, in fact, Latin America’s biggest wind market. In August 2015, Abeeolica reported that Brazil had more than 7 GW of installed capacity, growing by about 1 GW in only seven months. Wind provides 5% of the Brazilian power mix. In total, there are 281 wind farms in 11 states. The Brazilian government expects the wind sector to reach 23 GW of installed capacity by 2023, but Abeeolica’s forecast is a more optimistic 27 GW.

Most newsworthy, however, is the trend toward turbine placement in, and delivery of composite rotor blades to, places often glibly referred to by prognosticators as the Rest of the World. Here’s recent sampling (news sources and 2015 dates noted):


  • In September, a 138-MW wind farm in Drakenstein, South Africa began operations and two others, totaling 280 MW, started construction. SeeNews Renewables (9/14).
  • Turbine maker Vestas Wind Systems A/S (Aarhus, Denmark) struck deals to build turbines for wind farms in Uruguay and India.
  • The Asian Development Bank will provide about US$200 million to finance Sri Lanka's Sustainable Energy Authority’s goal to have 10% of the nation's total installed capacity to come from renewables by the end of 2015. The country would need at least 460 MW of installed renewable capacity to meet that goal. CleanTechnica (8/31)
  • Nordex (Hamburg, Germany contracted to supply the Gul Ahmed wind farm in Pakistan with a total capacity of 50 MW. (U.K.) (8/24)
  • El Salvador’s National Energy Council is preparing to add 150 MW of wind and solar via renewable energy auction. All of the projects are expected to begin operations by 2018. (U.K.) (8/20)
  • Ereymentau Wind Power is accepting bids to build a 50-MW wind farm in Kazakhstan with a potential total capacity of 300 MW. (U.K.) (8/11)
  • Turkish energy regulator EPDK will hold a wind energy auction for 2 GW ahead of schedule (October 2016) to support Turkey’s goal to increase its installed wind capacity from today’s 4+ MW to at least 20 GW by 2023. Bloomberg (8/11)
  • The forthcoming Kipeto 102-MW wind farm in Kenya will feature 47 1.6-MW and 16 G 1.6-MW turbines from General Electric. Kenya’s goal is an installed wind capacity of 2,036 MW by 2030. SeeNews Renewables (9/16)


In 2015, offshore wind was much in the news. According to the European Wind Energy Assn.’s (EWEA, Brussels, Belgium) mid-year report, The European Offshore Wind Industry — Key trends and Statistics, 1st Half 2015, wind farm operators in that region installed more new capacity in the first half of 2015 than in all of 2014. EWEA credited the spike to completion of several large, ongoing projects and to the use of much larger individual turbines that feature longer composite blades, which enable the rotor to capture more energy via a significantly greater swept area. Average turbine capacity, therefore, rose, says EWEA, from 3.5 MW in 2014 to 4.2 MW, thus far, this year.

Offshore installations in Europe through June 30, 2015 totaled 2,342.9 MW — tripling the grid-connected capacity installed in the first half of last year. As a result, total installed European offshore wind capacity hit 10,393.6 MW (82 wind farms in 11 countries). Germany accounted for the vast majority, with 406 turbines (1,706 MW), the UK followed with 140 turbines (522 MW) and The Netherlands brought up the rear with 38 turbines (114 MW).

In the US — after years of clearing federal, state and local government hurdles — US proponents of offshore wind energy celebrated as crews from Deepwater Wind LLC (Providence, RI, US) successfully set the first foundation for a commercial offshore US wind turbine at July 26, about 5 km southeast of Block Island, near New Shoreham, RI, US. Although the Block Island wind farm will be small — five turbines — each of the five, at 6 MW capacity will generate 15% greater power than all predecessors and reduce Block Island residents’ electricity costs (now based on diesel power) by 40%. Further 90% of its generated power will be fed to the Rhode Island mainland where this relatively small project will nonetheless supply 1% of the state’s total electric power. The 30-MW Block Island project will be followed by a much more ambitious Deepwater Wind project that will provide, according to BloombergBusiness, more than 1 GW of capacity. That’s a sizable piece of the planned 4.9 GW of planned US offshore installations of record in 2014, according to a US Department of Energy (DoE) report titled, Offshore Wind Market and Economic Analysis, compiled by Navigant Consulting Inc. (Burlington, MA, US). The balance of the total will be split between 12 other active projects.

Notably, offshore wind went commercial in Europe before the turn of the century. But Navigant reported in 2014 that, worldwide, commercial offshore wind development, in total, stood at 7 GW, with the greatest continuing growth concentrated, still, in Europe. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL, Boulder, CO, US) estimates the US has 4,200 GW of developable offshore wind potential, compared to its estimate of 11,000 GW of onshore wind potential. Wind resources are classified on a scale of 0 to 7 (7 is best) based on power density. Significantly, more than 66% of offshore wind in the US is in class 6 or 7. Developers on the North American side of the Atlantic are obviously interested in making up for lost time. 

In an article about the Block Island project published by the US Energy Information Admin. (Washington, DC) and written by Rachel Marsh and Cara Marcy (Aug. 14, 2015), the authors report that in the US, developers have proposed building nearly 4.9 GW of offshore wind capacity off the coasts of nine different states, but some challenges remain even for projects that have advanced through key regulatory and market milestones. For example, Cape Wind, a 486-MW project proposed in 2001, faced significant challenges and litigation that halted its progress. In 2014, for example, National Grid and Eversource Energy terminated its power purchase agreements with Cape Wind because of missed deadlines. In March this year, Cape Wind canceled its lease in New Bedford, MA, US, for its planned project-staging area. Other projects such as the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project and Fisherman's Energy Wind of New Jersey have faced development hurdles despite making significant progress in project development.

Marsh and Marcy put the difference in European and US attitudes toward offshore wind down, in part, to the abundance of onshore wind opportunities in the US, many in relatively unpopulated areas, where challenges such as those that have delayed/cancelled projects in densely populated New England are less likely to crop up.

The Production Tax Credit (PTC), a boon to wind energy development when in force, has historically been a political battlefield in the US. Uncertainty around its renewal (typically on a yearly basis), routinely discourages and/or delays project starts/commitments. A recent report, Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States, issued by the Wind and Water Power Technologies Office of the US Department of Energy (DoE), offers reasons for optimism, even without the stimulus provided by the PTC. The report notes that wind energy provided 4.5% of US energy demand in 2013, up from only 1.5% in 2008 — Iowa and South Dakota now generate more than 25% of their needed electricity from wind. Improved designs and larger rotors have reduced generation costs from $0.071 per kWh in 2008 to $0.045 per kWh in 2013 for regions where wind speeds are reliable. The report projects a further 24% reduction by 2020 and 33% by 2030 based on improvements in turbine technology and operations. According to Dale Brosius, CW columnist and chief commercialization officer for the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI, Knoxville, TN, US) these kinds of improvements might give natural gas, even with its current low market price, a real challenge. Further, the DoE envisions that wind will meet 10% of U.S. demand for electricity by 2020, 20% by 2030 and 35% by 2050.

As this report went to press, however, wind energy advocates celebrated as the US Congress included a five-year extension of the PTC in its massive annual budget bill near year’s end. The extension will offer the PTC, but at progressively decreasing values (see “Wind energy gains expected after tax credit extension” under “Editor’s Picks”).

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