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Wind turbines have grown larger and more productive, efficient, cost-effective and reliable due to investments in technology and supply chain. The next 10 years will certainly bring further change, but the technology focus will shift as the industry continues to mature and work toward levelized cost of energy (LCOE) grid parity, according to a new report from MAKE Consulting.

As competitive forces continue to intensify, MAKE says turbine original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must maintain a long-term technology outlook in order to remain relevant. Companies with a stronger focus on research and development will continue to produce superior products at lower cost positions, while those that fail to evolve to the best-available technology will risk market share and profit erosion, the company adds.

According to the report, many technology initiatives will become more evolutionary in nature, as turbine OEMs leverage existing platforms and technologies. However, differences in regional demand will require mass customization of product lines to meet the needs of global target markets.

At the same time, the report says looming consolidation among supply chain participants will lead to a deceleration of product introduction cycles, in contrast to recent years where product announcements have occurred at a dizzying pace. This dynamic will actually help to sharpen the focus on technology, resulting in more optimized and lower-cost products as turbine designers can thoroughly analyze design and supply options.

Many OEMs will continue to build deep domain expertise and rely less on design guidance of supply partners, particularly in the Asian markets, the report continues. This should improve system integration within the turbine and lead to evolutionary improvements in cost, performance and reliability.

However, the report adds, deeper OEM expertise will limit the opportunities for new technology-based entrants, as wind technology start-ups will find it difficult to survive outside of development partnerships with top-tier OEMs.

MAKE predicts the recent proliferation of low-wind large rotor products serving the 1.5 MW to 2 MW segment will slow as these products become more difficult to build cost-effectively. As blades become longer and more expensive, towers will need to be taller, gearboxes will be reinforced and structural elements will become more costly.  Nonetheless, the report says the trend toward longer blades for increased energy capture will not abate; it will merely shift to turbines with larger ratings.

Many recent turbine announcements have been aimed toward the 3MW segment in mature markets. MAKE says this trend will continue, as this segment of the market remains underserved with high-capacity factor machines. The report adds that creating world-class, cost-effective products for the 3 MW segment will require substantial improvements in blade, powertrain and tower technology. MAKE expects that advanced technology will be applied in volumes to this growing part of the onshore market.

The report says the most radical technology approaches will continue to be applied to the offshore segment, and OEMs continue to introduce larger machines to this market.  These machines include dramatically different drivetrains, rotor systems and power electronics due to the unique technical requirements of the offshore environment.

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