There are many ways to maximise wind power generation at a particular site. One of the prime solutions is bigger rotors and blades, which can cover a wider area. The benefits of larger blades are twofold. One, they can tap the wind speeds at higher altitudes. Two, large rotor diameters can help in harnessing more wind energy. The market for wind turbine rotors and blades is expected to grow with the greater uptake of both onshore and offshore wind projects. The falling cost of wind power, coupled with favourable government policies and incentives, is expected to further drive market growth. However, manufacturing and transportation constraints, and a further decline in solar power prices are expected to be the key hurdles in the demand growth of blades and rotors.
According to Mordor Intelligence’s report titled “Wind Turbine Rotor Blade Market – Growth, Trends, Covid-19 Impact, and Forecasts (2021 – 2026)”, the market for wind turbine rotors and blades is expected to register a compound annual growth rate of 8.38 per cent during 2020-25 (the forecast period). The key to the success of the rotors and blades market is the continued growth of the wind power segment.
According to the Global Wind Energy Council’s (GWEC) “Global Wind Report 2021” report, new global wind power installations crossed 90 GW in 2020, a 53 per cent increase over 2019. With this, the total installed wind capacity reached 743 GW, a growth of 14 per cent compared to 2019. New installations in the onshore wind market stood at 86.9 GW, while the offshore wind market recorded 6.1 GW of additions, making 2020 the highest and the second highest year in history for new onshore and offshore wind installations respectively. According to the report, the world’s top five wind markets in 2020 in terms of new installations were China, the US, Brazil, the Netherlands and Germany. Together, they accounted for 80.6 per cent of global installations in 2020. In terms of cumulative installations, the top five markets as of end 2020 remained unchanged – China, the US, Germany, India and Spain – which together accounted for 73 per cent of the world’s total wind power installations.
Apart from capacity additions, economic factors have played a part in market growth. Driven by the reduction in capital investments, increased capacity factors, and the augmented product life of wind turbines, the cost of onshore wind power generation has reduced significantly. As per a Mordor Intelligence report, in 2015, onshore wind projects required an average of Euro 2 million of financing per MW in Europe. By 2018, the financing requirement had fallen to Euro 1.4 million per MW. The reduced financing requirements have increased the uptake of onshore wind projects in Europe, thereby facilitating the growth of the rotors and blades market.
During the forecast period, factors such as decline in capital expenditure, supportive government policies and targets are expected to increase the number of wind power plants across the world.
Growth in the APAC region
According to Mordor Intelligence, the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region is the regional hotspot for the wind turbine rotor blade market. This can be attributed to governmental support in the form of incentives and ambitious national targets.
According to the GWEC, Asia has the highest installed wind power capacity by region (338.6 GW), followed by Europe (218.9 GW) and North America (135.9 GW). In 2020, the APAC region accounted for the highest new wind power capacity additions. Of the 93 GW of new wind power capacity installed in 2020, APAC’s share was 60 per cent (around 56 GW), with China accounting for 56 per cent. The Chinese government has been actively promoting renewable infrastructure development to curb pollution and reduce the share of thermal power in the country’s power generation profile. It is likely to drive the growth of wind power projects in the country, which, in turn, is expected to drive the wind turbine rotor blade market during the forecast period.
In the APAC region, the huge potential for offshore wind projects will drive the market for rotors and blades. Other hotspots after China are Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea, where a number of offshore wind projects are being planned.
Going forward, factors such as upcoming wind power projects, and supportive government policies and regulations across the region are expected to increase the demand for wind turbine rotor blades.
According to the report, the growing uptake of offshore wind energy capacity globally has been decreasing the cost of wind power. Moreover, the increasing number of ageing wind turbines is expected to drive the demand for new rotors and blades during the forecast period. However, there will also be several challenges that may slow down the growth of the market.
The biggest challenge, with longer blades in particular, is that most blades tend to bend and flex when faced with higher wind speeds. Hence, turbines are at the risk of collapse, and engineers need to find designs and materials that can withstand the stresses that come with high wind speeds. Moreover, in order to ensure the reliability of large and complex blades, high quality standards need to be maintained. This process is costly and labour intensive.
In addition, the growing logistical constraints are an impediment in the transportation of large blades. Some blades have become too large for the existing transportation infrastructure. The logistical challenges include limited road and rail connectivity, low highway underpass heights, fewer trucks for carrying large blades, and manoeuvring trucks at sharp turns. These constraints can reduce the number of developable sites and increase the cost of setting up plants at predetermined sites, making them economically unviable.
The industry is looking for solutions to logistical problems and is coming up with some innovative ideas. The use of lighter-than-air cargo airships and bending of blades to navigate curves in rail transport is expected to become the most preferred solution for the delivery of large blades to project sites at a neutral or reduced overall levellised cost of energy (LCoE). However, as lighter-than-air airships are not yet commercially available and rail transport with blade bending has also not been tested, these options will not find greater uptake in the near future. On-site assembly of blade pieces is the most promising solution at present as turbine manufacturers already have some experience with this solution. However, it increases the LCoE and requires cost reductions in other aspects of the wind power system. On-site blade manufacturing is another solution. While it will make transportation costs negligible, it will certainly be very expensive.
Globally, the wind power segment is actively looking to deploy cost-effective and technologically advanced solutions. Further, old turbines are being replaced with more efficient blades in the market and not merely due to product damages. These technological advancements are creating huge opportunities for the wind power segment.
The wind turbine rotor and blade market is quite competitive, with a large number of players including TPI Composites SA, LM Wind Power (now owned by GE), Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy SA, Vestas Wind Systems A/S and Enercon GmbH. This is a positive trend as it will lead to the introduction of innovative products. The future outlook for the industry seems positive. It will grow on the back of ambitious national targets for the deployment of a large number of onshore and offshore wind power projects aimed at a green recovery post-pandemic. A greater focus on research and development coupled with innovative solutions for manufacturing and transportation issues will further improve the outlook for the industry.
By Sarthak Takyar