Report on the Windpower 2017 Conference & Expo

Topics include industry outlook as well as a focus on advancing blade technology to meet self-sustaining goals for wind power.

AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan  

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA, Washington, DC) maintained an upbeat, wind-at-its-back attitude for its Windpower 2017 conference and exhibition in Anaheim, Calif., May 22-25, in spite of environmentally unfriendly dust devils spinning around the current federal administration. Even with a rollback of the Clean Power plan, and the phaseout of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) in 2020, AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan expects the industry can avoid significant losses and become self-sustaining.

Some 7000 attendees and 432 exhibitors from the US, Denmark, Germany, Canada, South America and other lands seemed to agree. In 2016, US wind industry employment totaled 102,500 including 25,000 jobs in more than 500 wind-related active manufacturing facilities. Advancing technology is turning out lighter, longer blades and upgraded power systems, resulting in fewer turbines for the same power output, and planning capacity is improving reliability for future US energy needs.

At a standing-room-only opening session, Kiernan, incoming AWEA Chair Tristan Grimbert (President and CEO of EDF Renewable Energy, San Diego, CA), California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León and other speakers and panelists expressed confidence that wind power is actually a good business decision today. Sen. de León has introduced a bill that would increase wind, solar and natural gas renewable energy systems (RES) in California to 50 percent in 2030 and 100 percent by 2045—which de León expressed confidence will pass. Already, he says, “ten times as many people are employed by clean energy in California alone as coal mining jobs in the entire nation.”  He adds that lower utility bills from renewable energy equal a tax cut for consumers.

Mergers and acquisitions, such as Siemens/Gamesa and the recent GE Renewable Energy/LM Wind Power are right on track for a growing industry. GE’s Public Affairs Director Tim Brown says its acquisition of LM gives GE better control over costs, technology advances, a reliable source of blades and other advantages of vertical integration.

 

Wind on sale

With more than 84 gigawatts (1 GW=1 billion watts) now available in the US, wind power is no longer considered an alternative energy source, but mainstream, a status backed by Ben Fowke, president, CEO and chairman of the board of Xcel Energy, a utility holding company based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, serving more than 3.3 million electric customers from Minnesota to Texas. Texas is the top user among the 41 states relying on wind energy. Fowkes says he has “wind on sale.” Xcel has been adding wind steadily in the past few years, and considers wind as a fuel that is becoming more and more dependable. For his customers, “It’s about money,” he says. “Wind is a fuel that is saving them money. Wind is one of the most efficient fuels possible. It can reduce carbon without sacrificing economics.”

Berkshire Hathaway Energy (Des Moines, IA) and Southern California Edison (SCE, Rosemead, Calif.) are also primary utility customers for wind and other RES. In addition to utility companies, a number of major corporations in the US have committed to RES, notably Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Target and Walmart.

 

Advancing blade technology to meet self-sustaining goals for wind power

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IACMI's wind turbine blade. (Photo credit: Donna Dawson). 

Nearly all wind turbine blades are made using composite materials and processes. Dale Brosius, chief commercialization officer for The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI, Knoxville, TN) was on hand at the exhibit, featuring IACMI’s advanced technology prototype 9m wind turbine blade, developed in conjunction with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Boulder, Colo). This innovative blade technology is expected to speed production times, reduce manufacturing cost, and provide stronger, more energy efficient blades—all necessary goals for a self-sustaining wind power industry. The blade is made using the Arkema (King of Prussia, PA) resin system Elium reactive thermoplastic liquid resin, reinforced by Johns Manville (Denver, CO) thermoplastic-compatible glass fiber and sizing materials in a room-temperature infusion process. The blade is stiffened by pultruded carbon fiber spar caps made using Huntsman Polyurethanes (Auburn Hills, MI) Rimline toughened polyurethane resin reinforced by a blend of commercial carbon fiber, including cost-effective PAN-based fiber produced by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, TN).

Advances in hybrid carbon technology for wind turbine blades was presented by Michael Lund-Laverick, director of technology projects for LM Wind Power, a GE Renewable Energy business in Kolding, Denmark. Here, too, the technology advance is aimed at cost-effective windpower. “Introduction of carbon fiber reinforcement reduces blade mass and static root moment, enabling larger rotors to be developed within a given mass envelope,” Laverick explains, adding that “Hybrid glass/carbon technology reduces material costs and processing sensitivities compared to all-carbon construction.” LM’s 88.4 P blade is one of world’s biggest constructions, and the longest blade in the world to date. It was produced in a 2-step infusion process. In the first step, the main shell and core were infused and cured using standard LM glass fiber and polyester resin. The second step was a dry fabric layup of a hybrid glass/carbon fiber, and “vinyl ester-type” resin infusion. The fully tested blade was transported by road to Adwen’s Aalborg, Denmark, facility, destined for eventual installation in Adwen’s AD 8-180 wind turbine, with 8 megawatt (1MW = 1 million watts) nominal capacity and 180m rotor diameter. Adwen, an Areva Wind company headquartered in Bremerhaven, Germany, is a leading manufacturer of offshore wind turbines.

 

Inspection at 150m and up

With towers plus blades exceeding 150m in height 80m in length, inspecting and repairing composite blades in the field have become more difficult—and even hazardous. To the rescue: Drones!  Major blade manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems AS (Aarhus, Denmark) has turned to InspecTools (La Selva Beach, CA) risk reduction systems for visual inspection of an entire blade’s surface by drones that are operated by a technician from the ground. Chris Bley, InspecTools VP, business development, explains that drones and custom software provide insight into a blade’s condition over time; when flaws are found, a decision is made to continue monitoring or repair. If repairs are needed, they are primarily performed in situ. As an alternative and depending on the type of damage, Vestas offers on-ground repairs or refurbished blades to replace a severely damaged blade. "Due to the size and importance of having functioning and efficient blades, ongoing inspection, maintenance and repair are critical vs. a larger failure that could have been prevented,” Bley says.

SkySpecs in Ann Arbor, MI, also provides drones for wind blade inspection. Its drones are automated and pre-programmed to visually inspect all three sides of all the diverse types of 3-bladed turbine blades. In 15 minutes. The drone then returns to the operator and is transferred to Sky Spec’s portal in the cloud, where the data is uploaded and analyzed by Sky Spec’s software.

One-year old CampSix Labs in Santa Cruz, CA, offers a robotic drone that attaches to the surface of the blade and, in addition to inspection, can actually perform limited repair work on the blade, such as sanding, basic composite repairs, and applying film for leading edge protection.

Keystone Aerial Surveys (Philadelphia, PA) uses a FLIR Vue thermal camera (FLIR Systems, Nashua, NH) on its drones that is said to actually detect voids and delamination.

 

Challenges

More transmission wires, better storage technology, integrated services, quicker siting of wind farms and a plunge into the tremendous power of offshore wind.