What do you mean by “over-capacity”?
I’d say too many manufacturing facilities have led to too much production. For example, in the U.S. there is a 14 GW manufacturing capacity for nacelles that will be online by the end of 2011, but so far there is only a demand in 7-9 GW range. While I’m not sure what the exact statistics are on blade production, they are similar, and the fact remains that there is more supply than demand right now. Add to that a lack of ongoing policy at the Federal level with regards to the production tax credit and other renewable energy incentives, and there is a level of uncertainty and a lack of desire to invest in development projects. Right now, it looks like the tax credit will end in 2012 because coming up on congressional and a presidential election, no one wants to take sides on a divisive issue. The cyclical stalling gives manufacturers’ years of boom and bust, which is not good for job hiring or economic sustainability.
What would help the composites industry expand within renewable energy?
Materials science will be the most dominant force in influencing the renewables industries over the next 20 years. In any industry, material science ends up being the largest influence in creating change in technology. Through our efforts in investigating wind industry technology trends, my firm has identified six trends driving the sector. Chief amongst them is component cost / weight reduction. Some manufacturers would choose to make the blades, the nacelle and even the tower of a wind turbine out of composites if it would be cost effective. Blades are still made from fiberglass and balsa wood due to the input cost comparison with composites, but as components get larger and heavier, improved stiffness or reliability is needed and currently that can only be enabled by composites. Other materials are currently not as cost or weight-effective as fiberglass and balsa. However, shape memory alloys (SMA) are one material that is strongly being considered for aerodynamic performance enhancements. We’re at a point where significant R&D investment in furthering technology is resulting in minuscule improvement. We need something more radical and no one has that figured out yet. We need to talk about implementing carbon nanotube based technologies and composite materials in areas that will have a huge impact.
Are there key pieces of legislation or law that you keep an eye on?