Wind energy is one of the key parts of the energy transition. In 2018 50 GW were installed but it is expected that in the next few years it will reach 60 GW per year. What will wind turbines be like in the next few years? What trends can we guess in the market?
Before we turn on the crystal ball, let’s look at the main factors that will shape the sector in the medium term (and surprisingly, despite the 60GW per year, volume is not one of them):
- LCoE: The race to reduce generation costs is very competitive. And the curious thing is that it will no longer be, as it has been until now, a struggle with the conventional ones, but with the solar PV+storage. Wind will have to achieve continuous cost reductions to ensure those 60 GW per year in a very cheap solar environment and probably backed by battery storage.
- Auctions: It is often said that the auctions have reduced margins, but it has also affected the development of the turbines since the great competition between the promoters means that instead of simulating the project with a commercially available turbine, it is done with a future development that in some cases is not even developed. This is evident in offshore, where projects are auctioned 4-5 years before they are put into operation, so it is necessary to work with hypotheses of future models.
- Consolidation of OEMs: the bigger the manufacturer, the greater its capacity to produce new models. The development of new, more competitive turbines ensures the good health of the sector but also serves as an entry barrier for manufacturers with fewer resources. The higher the volume, the shorter the payback period and the greater the R&D capacity, thus shortening the product life cycles.
Let us now look at some product trends that are likely to occur in the coming years:
- Bigger rotors: “Well, what a novelty” some will think. And they are right. The growth of the rotor is the main lever to improve the LCoE of the platforms. Let’s take a look at the latest onshore turbines launched on the market.
In this graph of power vs diameter it can be seen that the growth in rotor can not equal to that of power. Following the trend, the next developments would be in the area of 6MW and 160m rotor. But to guess trends, it is always better to look at power densities:
And this is where we see that the latest models launched in the range of 5-5.5MW, have a higher power density than the previous segments (3.5 and 4.5 MW). It seems clear that the next generation will focus more on lowering the power density by growing in rotor than on increasing the nominal power. My bet is that the next developments will be class III models of the 5-5,5MW platforms with perhaps small power upgrades to reach 6MW but with rotors in the 180m environment. And in these lengths, it seems necessary to have the option of modular blade.
- Shorter development cycles: developing a new model in less than 18 months is very complicated as there are tasks such as certification or fatigue tests that require time. But what is possible is to do something that a few years ago was science fiction in this sector: overlap developments. This means that a new turbine could be launched on the market every 9-10 months if resources (and costs) are doubled, so this is an expensive option that is only available to large manufacturers. Let’s see as an example the times of the latest launches:
The time between the commercial launch and the commissioning of the prototype was 21 months for Vestas V150-4.2 and 19 months for SiemensGamesa 4.2-145. If we analyze the time between launches, Vestas waited 18 months to launch its new V162 while SiemensGamesa did it at 17 months. It is clear that the 2 market leaders are sequentially linking developments around the famous 18 months. This pace of launches is already very complicated to match for smaller manufacturers so if at some point in the future breaks the barrier of 18 months through overlapping developments, most manufacturers will not be able to keep pace and will see their products become obsolete.
The curious thing is that a few years ago this type of analysis always tried to guess where was the technical, logistical or even physical limit of the new turbines while now few dare to talk about limits but on the contrary speculate with faster evolutions in time and dimensions.