The markets: Renewable energy (2019)

The global market for wind turbine composite materials could reach a market value of more than 12 billion by 2023 and is expected to grow at CAGR around 9.6% from now to 2023.

Wind energy continues to dominate in this segment and remains, far and away, the world’s largest market for glass fiber-reinforced composites. It’s also competing with other heavy users, such as the aerospace industry, for carbon fiber use as blades get longer and blade builders look for ways to lightweight the massive structures without performance sacrifices. Wind turbine blades remain a key market segment for composites.

According to a report titled “Wind Turbine Composite Materials Market (Type: Glass Fiber, Carbon Fiber, Others; Application: Wind Blade, Nacelle, Tower, Base, Others; Manufacturing Process: Resin Infusion Technology, Prepreg, Hand Lay-up, Others) – Global Industry Analysis, Market Size, Opportunities and Forecast, 2017 – 2023” by Acumen Research and Consulting, (Maharashtra, India), the global market for wind turbine composite materials could reach a value of more than US$12 billion by 2023 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.6% until 2023.

In the US, wind power is booming despite facing year four of a five-year phase-down of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) on which the industry was once dependent for its financial security. According to a report by the American Wind Energy Assn. (AWEA, Washington, DC, US), the US wind industry installed 7,017 MW of new capacity in 2017, growing 9% over 2016. During the first quarter of 2018, 406 MW of new power capacity was installed. More than 54,000 wind turbines with a combined capacity of 89,379 MW now operate in the US.

The roster of US wind projects under construction and in advanced development as of the end of the first quarter of 2018 had reached 33,449 MW, a 40% increase year-over-year, according to AWEA’s US Wind Industry First Quarter 2018 Market Report.

According to AWEA, project developers signed 3,560 MW of power purchase agreements (PPAs) during the first quarter of 2018 — the strongest quarter since AWEA began tracking PPA activity in 2013 — with utilities accounting for 69% of that activity and corporate consumers accounting for 31%. These combined activities contributed to 10,220 MW in total announcements since early 2016.

As for offshore wind in the US, there were 14 offshore wind projects in various stages of development off the East and Great Lakes coasts at the end of 2017.

In April 2018, Connecticut’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP, Hartford, CT, US) received three offshore wind farm bids in response to a request for renewable energy proposals. The proposals came from Deepwater Wind (Providence, RI, US), Vineyard Wind (New Bedford, MA, US) and Bay State Wind, a joint venture of Eversource Energy (Boston, MA, US) and Orsted (Fredericia, Denmark). In July, the New York State Public Service Commission set a course for the state's first procurements of offshore wind to support New York's goal of 2,400 MW of new offshore wind generation by 2030. And then, in September 2018, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU, Trenton, NJ, US) approved an order opening an application window for 1.1 GW of offshore wind capacity, which is reportedly the US’s largest single-state solicitation of offshore wind to date. New Jersey has a stated goal of 3.5 GW of offshore wind by 2030.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA, Eureka, CA, US) selected a consortium of companies to pursue development of a floating offshore wind farm 20 miles off the Northern California coast.

Whether these projects get the go-ahead and what their development will mean for the composites industry remain to be seen. Currently, most turbines for offshore wind are built in Europe. Transport of the enormous structures would be an issue, and given the current US presidential administration’s push for more homegrown manufacturing, it seems that most offshore wind ventures would be looking toward manufacturing in the US. Bay State Wind reported in April 2018 a partnership with international steel pipe manufacturer EEW (Erndtebrück, Germany) to open a Massachusetts facility to manufacture steel components, namely monopole foundations and transition pieces. But what about composite components — specifically, blades? The blades for Block Island, the US’s first offshore wind farm, were manufactured in Denmark by LM Wind Power (Lunderskov Municipality, Denmark) and shipped by boat. There is currently no company based in the US that is fabricating the large blades needed for offshore wind.

As for the rest of the world, at the end of June 2017, the European Union had a total of 159.5 GW of wind power capacity installed (48% in Germany). In all, the wind energy industry added 52.6 GW of new installed generating capacity in 2017, bringing the world's installed wind energy total to 539.581 GW, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (Brussels, Belgium).

The size of wind turbines continues to increase as well. Twenty or more years ago, when the first large-scale, commercial wind-generated power came on line, wind farms comprised turbines rated at 1 MW or less, with glass fiber-reinforced blades that typically ranged from 10 to 15m in length. Today, offshore, 6-9-MW turbines with blades 65-80m long are the norm. In September 2018, MHI Vestas announced that its V164 turbine platform has now achieved a power rating of 10 MW, making it the first commercially available double-digit wind turbine. While 10-MW turbines won’t be installed until 2021, an 8.8-MW version of the V164 was deployed in Vattenfall’s (London, UK) European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) in Scotland’s Aberdeen Bay in April 2018. The turbine has a tip height of 191m and each blade is 80m long.

As wind turbines get larger and blade lengths continue to increase, carbon fiber reinforcement in spar caps — incorporated as the reinforcing member of wind turbine rotor blades — has become an efficient way to reduce overall weight and increase blade stiffness to prevent tower strikes in the event of sudden wind gusts. According to Philip Schell, executive VP, carbon fiber, Zoltek Corp. (St. Louis, MO, US), roughly 25% of wind turbines are now manufactured with carbon fiber spar caps. Although that figure is trending upward, it also underscores that most turbines are still built entirely from glass fiber composites. He adds that when all cost/performance trade-offs are considered, a solid case can be made for substituting carbon fiber for glass fiber in the manufacture of spar caps for turbine blades 55m in length and longer.

Although wind energy still captures the spotlight, and rightly so, the means to convert the power of incoming/outgoing tides and ocean currents are also attaining commercial status. One example, in 2017, was Portland, ME, US-based Ocean Renewable Power Co.’s deployment of its commercial-scale TidGen ocean tidal energy power system in Western Passage, at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, one of the world’s most powerful tidal flows, on the border between eastern Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. ORPC’s 5-MW, 15-device, all-composite tidal turbine system should have the capability to generate low-cost electric power for all of Downeast Maine. Within eight to 10 years, ORPC expects to have 100-120 MW of similar systems in place not only off the coast of Maine, but also off the coast of Alaska as well. What made the story an especially standout effort was news of a sister system, the RivGen system, a two-turbine unit supported by a chassis with a pontoon support structure that enables installers to tow it into position. The support structure then acts as a foundation when it is sunken and deployed in a riverbed. A RivGen on the Kvichak River, adjacent to remote Igiugig, AK, US, now provides that town power at much a lower price than was paid previously when electric power generation depended on diesel fuel. 

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