Wind Energy Industry Research & Development Spending to Top US$36.9 billion by 2028
As the wind turbine market enters a new era driven by subsidy and tax credit free cost parity, a new generation of wind energy technology is poised to hit the market by 2020. Markets which are shifting towards a competitive tendering process continue to drive the need for higher AEP as well as lower CapEx, OpEx and LCOE.
Additionally, new technologies on blade segmentation and turbine erection will unlock previously untapped pockets of the global market, in both space constrained sectors or areas of complex terrain where conventional technology is not cost effective.
Collectively, the industry will spend approximately US$28.2B in private R&D by 2028, matched with approximately US$8.7B in public R&D funding over the same time-frame. The private investment represents an industry average of approximately 5.3% of expected revenue, and is a significant increase off the average industry low of approximately 2.7% back in 2013.
Regionally, Western Europe, Japan and China will dominate the R&D and technology development landscape, with North America lagging behind a bit due to an unfavorable political environment in the US and lack of meaningful government support for climate change technology.
India is potentially emerging as a hotbed of technology development as low costs and government initiatives on renewables and manufacturing competency development continue to drive optimism. GCC states are also poised to see an increase in spending on renewable energy technologies in general over the next 10 years.
Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, The Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia are likely to see some modest spending on R&D, as increased wind penetration increases awareness of technology function and development opportunities.
Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa will see minimal R&D spend in the next 10 years, but they have an opportunity to grow as wind turbine capacity additions increase in those regions and economies recover.
The state of blade manufacturing technology in the industry sees a shift towards the use of carbon fiber in recent years due to a higher strength to weight ratio than glass fiber reinforced plastics. Spar caps made from prepregs and carbon pultrusion in recent years have been heavily favored with a carbon infusion process also seeing an uptick thanks to growth of SGRE offshore turbines utilizing that process.
The trend towards infusion manufacturing has grown as blades have gotten larger. Carbon prepregs have taken over from glass blades for mid-range 2.0 – 5.0MW onshore turbines. Pultrusion appears to also be popular when it comes to larger rotor diameters and the shift away from pure fiberglass blades on larger onshore and offshore turbines will become more evident with global capacity additions in the next 5 years.
The state of drivetrain architecture use sees direct drive turbines gaining in popularity worldwide. Conventional, three stage planetary, helical gearboxes still dominate the market within the geared turbine architecture, but as turbine nameplate capacities grow larger, we anticipate a shift towards more two-stage architectures and medium-speed generators. The growth trend in direct drive is largely due to Goldwind’s continued success in China, as well as the proliferation of SGRE direct drive turbines offshore.
As turbines have grown larger, there has been a shift towards direct drive turbine architecture along with a continued push towards gearboxes with one or two stages to minimize components while still optimizing torque capacity. While the alternative drivetrain architectures such as hydraulic / hydrostatic and other niche sub-genres of direct drive and geared have been explored, the industry has largely settled on proven and bankable technology architectures when it comes to the drivetrain.
The state of tower technology in the industry has seen a significant dominance of steel tube towers since the earliest days of the industry. The use of concrete towers has emerged in the past 20 years as an option as hub heights grow, but this is quickly being outpaced by the growth in hybrid towers.
The 80 meter steel tube tower has been the favorite of the industry, and significant economies of scale have been achieved with steel tube towers in general. The shift towards more common use of concrete, segmented and hybrid towers which, in their most common format, combine a concrete base with a steel tube upper portion.
The state of generator types indicates the continued growth of permanent magnet generators (PMG) of a radial orientation, with doubly-fed induction generators (DFIG) still holding the largest percentage of the market. The growth of PMG is due to the growth in turbine sales globally by Goldwind, as well as the shift by Vestas several years ago to use that type on the V105 / 112 / 117 / 126 / 136 / 150 / 162 products.
Certainly, as turbines have gotten larger over the years, the use of permanent magnet generators has been favored. Asynchronous generators will not be as efficient as doubly fed induction generators at higher nameplate capacities. Additionally, Enercon will be phasing out their Wound Synchronous architecture in favor of PMG in the coming years after their acquisition of Lagerwey. As noted above with drivetrain architecture, most companies have favored technical solutions which focus on reliability and bankability while still maintaining solid efficiency.
A strong correlation has long existed in markets who spend the most on R&D, and those with the most wind capacity additions. Ultimately, R&D is a precursor to subsequent technology deployment, and therefore the cost reductions associated with achieving economies of scale in that market.