A new report from Navigant Research has concluded that innovation and lean manufacturing are resulting in the rapid evolution of blade design and manufacture, allowing wind turbine vendors to meet “future challenges” and helping them prepare “to compete purely on cost against traditional generation.”
The report is the fifth issue of the BTM Consult bi-annual Supply Chain Assessment 2014 — Wind Energy report published by Navigant Research, and examines the significant forces shaping the global wind power industry’s supply chain.
“This is a time of high creative ferment in the wind power industry,” says Jesse Broehl, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “Long dominant blade designs and manufacturing processes are evolving, with repercussions all along the value chain—from the materials (such as resins, fiberglass, and carbon fiber) to the blade suppliers and the turbine manufacturers themselves.”
The evolution of the industry has allowed technological innovation to not only push the industry further, but also to decrease the cost of manufacturing. Wind turbine blade manufacturing in particular is seeing major innovation and evolution in terms of design, with turbine manufacturers “making major capital-intensive investment changes in how blades are designed, what materials are used, the manufacturing processes behind them, and what companies they source from.”
“The supply chain plays an outsized role in this process through improvements and innovations in components and manufacturing processes,” write the authors of the report in their executive summary. “Over the past 2 years, more flexible supply chain sourcing strategies have resulted in cost reductions, enabling greater geographic market access while reducing risk and ensuring profitability for wind turbine vendors and their many partners in the component value chain.”
The authors of the report highlight the design and innovation of blades as an example of “a particularly strong area of strategic product evolution and sourcing shifts.” Blades continue to evolve along lines such as aerodynamics, as well as novel approaches with split and segmented blades to improve the transportation of large blades. New materials are being used as well, and the report focuses heavily on these, with detailed sections on epoxy resins, polyesters, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and pre-impregnated reinforcement materials.
As blades evolve to be longer and more efficient, so too do towers evolve to be taller, accessing stronger and more persistent winds.
And though current market conditions are seeing many facilities being run at partial capacity, the report concludes that “product innovation, lean manufacturing, and sourcing are resulting in a highly competitive wind industry ready for the challenges of today’s and tomorrow’s wind markets.”