Monitoring the products companies had on display at the AWEA’s recent WINDPOWER 2010 trade show and comparing them to products from the 2009 event, makes it possible to see dynamic and positive changes in the wind industry. After the show in Dallas, for instance, the trends in a nutshell are that turbines are headed to larger ratings and OEMs are planning more direct-drive units. In addition, watch for more offshore installations. Here’s a little of what I gleaned:
The economy-of-scale dictates larger units as a way to trim the cost of generating power from wind. A larger turbine is less expensive to own and operate than two turbines of half the output. So make them larger. Just last year, it was easy to say 1.5 MW was the sweet spot for turbine manufacturers. Today it is nearing 2.5 MW and many manufacturers working on steep learning curves were displaying details of still larger units. For instance, Clipper and American Superconductor have announced huge 10-MW units.
Reliability is on the mind of purchasers, and manufacturers are responding. Acciona, for example, says its new 2.5-MW unit has two main bearings on the main shaft to control loads and a standard service lift to relieve stress in technicians’ knees. The company says the units boast of 98% availability.
Reliability is also the driver for direct-drive units. Siemens formally introduced its 3.0 MW direct-drive turbine as did GE with its 4.0-MW design, a direct drive headed for an initial installation in the fresh waters of Lake Erie. Northern Power Systems shared a few details of it 2.2 MW direct-drive turbine that will begin prototype construction this year. The two 10-MW turbines mentioned earlier will also use direct drives and are headed for offshore duty.
New ideas on display included superconducting generators from American Superconductor. The company says it will cool generators that use its superconducting materials with an inert gas to 60 to 80°K (0°K or Kelvin is absolute zero). This allows reducing generator size and weight. And to cool superconducting cables, it could use liquid nitrogen.
What about the next few years? The number of OEMs from China and Taiwan suggest there will be more Asian units in U.S. wind farms. Show attendees Goldwind and Sinovel say they plan to introduce higher-output turbines next year. The companies add that they have 2.5 and 3-MW units under development. Their quality seems to meet that of western designs and is likely to improve.
My hunch is that without a national Renewable Electricity Standard, the wind industry will grow for about the next three years before leveling off as companies buy other companies, and MRO activity dominates the industry. But if Congress passes an RES (20% by 2025) growth could be steady for the next 10 years and then level off. Before that happens, however, disruptive or unexpected technology, new designs out of left field, could come along to shake things up. It happens in all industries. This one might be next.
Filed Under: News