Editor’s note: This is the introductory page for the annual Trends section, a collection of articles that examines about a dozen trends in different wind industry disciplines.
There is a sense that the wind industry is about to experience big things, with or without a production tax credit. From our perspective, it seems many developments are just about ready to break out of labs across the country looking for wind farms for confirmation tests. The WindWatch section of this magazine provides one guide to wind industry developments. More details on particular disciplines follow on the next few pages and a few other trends are here.
Offshore, wind farms will soon dock off Cape Cod and in Lake Erie near Cleveland. Spokes-people for both sites say their start dates are in 2015.
Gearboxes will soon not be the headaches they were five years ago. The root cause of their problems, bearing failures, have been identified and addressed with bearings designs better able to handle loads, and torque reversals with add-on devices that quell jarring loads.
Power storage may be the big story in the next few years because of a large battery’s ability to stabilize a grid’s frequency. Grids carry power at rapidly changing rates and maintaining frequency is no mean feat. There are dozens of companies with battery ideas. Although Lithium-ion batteries are the market darling, a final outcome is anyone’s guess. Few of the 20 or so companies vying for business will win out in this application. One trend driving wider spread installation is that it would let a battery manager become a small spot market.
Blades have been built longer and more slender by several companies thanks to a number of ideas for taking weight out. The space-frame blade is one idea for building a long, light blade. It’s a sort of rigid skeleton covered in a stiff skin. These structures, even of conventional design, have led to capacity factors that approach 50%, according to one industry consultant. Longer blades alone open more areas with less than the best wind speeds to developers.
Towers, taller and less expensive than conventional rolled steel versions, will be a boon to the industry. Concrete bases allow boosting towers to 130 m heights. They have been commercially available for several years, but 2014 may be the year we see some in the U.S. Why has the modular tower not caught on? Maybe no one wanted to be first.
Federal policy has always been the most difficult industry driver to trend. FERC rules have fragmented the electric power market into power producers, transmission companies, distributors (utilities) and probably more. One developing trend will be to reintegrate these groups into a unified looking organization. And although it appears as if the PTC has finally expired at this writing, it may be just sleeping. WPE
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