Domestically, energy policy will have the largest stimulus on the composites industry. If there is an extension of the production tax credit or other incentives for renewables like wind, then demand should return in a robust way that will bolster the sub-component suppliers as well.
What more would you like to see from composites?
Continued technological innovation around manufacturing and quality are the most important contributions the composites industry can make to wind turbine production. Most wind turbine blades are made with a hand lay-up process, which can lead to manufacturing defects and lack of consistency. As the industry moves towards more composite material use in wind blades, manufacturing processes that have been pervasive in the aerospace and defense industries for the manufacturing of wings, fuselages and helicopter rotor blades, need to be more heavily utilized. Specifically, automation in manufacturing around fiber placement and the manufacturing and use of pre-pregs or pultruded rods for structural members in the blades are the largest areas of innovation being talked about right now in the wind sector.
What does the wind energy market have to look forward to in 2011-2012?
Globally, growth for wind turbines will continue, albeit in a tepid manner, but there is still significant potential for demand to return more robustly in the U.S. if energy policy will be addressed this year, which is a long shot. If not, the focus will shift elsewhere globally, with China and South America becoming hotbeds for wind turbine deployment, and the European offshore market set to take off in the coming years as well. Currently China—growing at a rate of 12-15 GW per year—is the leader in wind energy, and that trend is expected to continue. However, they tend to use older technology in their manufacturing. For example, there’s not a lot of composites usage as they sign licensing agreements for older designs from the U.S. and European turbine OEMs. Other developing countries like Brazil and India also continue to implement energy policy that encourages growth.
Where are the biggest opportunities for composites in the wind energy market?
Obtaining a larger footprint of composites use in the wind sector will be the result of making the materials more cost competitive. Although, even if the material cost is a net increase for the overall capital cost of the turbine, if it enables technology enhancement such as larger rotor diameters with the same loads as conventional materials, then they could have a significant impact on the cost of energy production for wind.