When it comes to renewable energy, America seems to be the kid dragging his feet during an intense game of football. President Obama has stated his desire for the U.S. to be ranked at least number two in the world for renewable energy. So far, it’s not even close to that. Small countries such as Sweden already out produce a country many times its size.
Habib Dagher from the University of Maine spoke to a swelling audience on the last day of COMPOSITES 2010 on the window of opportunity available to composites manufacturers within the wind energy market.
Within the U.S. the largest concentration of people is within the northeast corridor, roughly the size of a misshapen Texas. Approximately 55 million people live, work and burn through high energy bills, all while untapped potential lies nearby.
However, the U.S. now has a goal: generate 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind energy by the year 2030. This includes not only land turbines but offshore ones as well. Currently the U.S. has several proposed offshore projects, mostly within the Northeast, but zero installed. Whereas the U.K. alone is pushing forward, contractors and all, on a $12 billion offshore project. Dagher estimates that within the U.S., $200 billion will be spent on offshore wind with blades alone accounting for 10 percent of the cost—which is a huge opportunity for the composites industry. “Offshore wind turbines offer a great deal of opportunity because they require different things compared to land turbines,” he says. But Dagher also pointed out some obstacles that impede progress. “Offshore turbines need to be longer and more durable within salt water to limit maintenance costs. After all, who wants to go 15 miles offshore and fix a broken turbine that’s 300 feet in the air?”
Dagher emphasized that the offshore market is slowly evolving. It’s new and has room for vast improvements within product use, installation capabilities and maintenance. “That gives composite manufacturers the opportunity to develop new resins and coating systems as well as develop solutions on how to anchor turbines that will be installed in transitional and deeper waters (over 200 feet),” he says. “Do you ask a boat builder to go 15 miles offshore and build a boat? No! But right now, that’s what offshore turbine installers have to do.” If the composites industry can find a more durable solution and an easier way to install these turbines, it’s not just a window of growth opportunity for the market: it’s a wide open door.