Will transportation issues be a significant factor going forward?
Ninety percent of wind turbines were manufactured in Rhode Island by what is now called TPI Composites and were installed in Palm Springs, Calif. The blades were truck shippable at less than 30 feet. You could ship five or six in the same truck, and gas was so cheap to move them it didn’t matter too much where they were built—that’s all changing. More wind turbine manufacturers are moving into molding/tooling processes near the wind-farm site. That is why you see so many European wind-turbine suppliers locating in the mid U.S., as that is where the wind blows consistently.
How is the financial sector affecting the wind turbine industry?
Wind turbine manufacturing involves moving many truckloads of material weighing up to 40,000 pounds per truckload. It takes three to four truckloads of raw material to turn into one complete turbine system (three blades and a composite nacelle). It’s high finance, high risk and has proven to be a very volatile business. There’s been a real downside to the wind-turbine business in the U.S., while the investment community gets its act together. We are experiencing a major slow down because it takes at least 3 years to put a wind farm together. It’s a really tough game but I’m confident that this business will go on quite nicely in the future since wind is presently the most cost-viable alternative energy source.
What’s the short-term forecast for the wind-turbine business?
The year 2012 will be a decent year. 2013 and 2014 are looking really, really good. 2009 was the best year we ever had, whereas 2010 was terrible because those deals were made in 2007 when the recession hit, which were delayed or cancelled due to bank finance falling apart and the price of oil dropping. Plus, the need for more power diminished and the utilities are reluctant to add capacity when they are not using what they are producing.
What’s the long-term forecast for the wind-turbine business?
The future of wind is very bright both on shore and off shore. We need the power near the large cities that are most often located near major bodies of water, so I see offshore wind turbines coming of age in places like Rhode Island. Water turbines and many other composite parts for electric vehicles, rail cars, and, most recently, construction of composite homes and buildings, also look very good for composites. It’s not just wind alone, but water, too. The ocean is a renewable power system. Recent developments include a water-turbine system that goes with the tide. It’s a horizontal eggbeater 65-feet long and about 12-feet in diameter, and the timing is slow enough, so that the fish easily slide through. It turns slowly with the tide, which will happen every day.