Publicly traded wind energy firms have drawn the ire of investors around the world as stock prices continued their tumble over the past year, with losses from publicly traded companies between 50% and 70% year over year. So far, internal cost-cutting and supply-chain optimization have only yielded profit margins in the low single digits, but further margin increases are needed in the next two to three years, says a new report from MAKE Consulting.
In order to reinvigorate investor enthusiasm, onshore wind energy must be able to compete head to head with fossil-fueled power generation with limited or no support from government-driven incentives, the firm says. In select situations, this has been achieved, with major turbine manufacturers claiming the ability to produce unsubsidized wind energy in the range of $50/MWh to $60/MWh.
Years of advancements in modern, mainstream onshore wind turbines have made this possible, yielding performance increases of 15% in annual energy production, while turbine pricing has remained under pressure over the past 24 months. Technology and industrialization lie at the heart of this endeavor and must be embraced to increase wind turbine energy capture and lower the capital cost of next-generation wind turbines, MAKE Consulting says.
Traditional wind turbine designs have their limitations, and continued evolution of an existing design will eventually lead to diminishing returns, the firm adds. Achieving even specific ratings (<200 w/m2) or expanding the market of current low-wind-speed turbines into class III and class II environments will require innovations.
Innovation requires investment, which is sometimes difficult to justify in a tough market environment but is essential to cement a path back to profitability.
According to MAKE Consulting, blade structures and materials remain at the forefront of innovation as new concepts reach commercialization in the coming years, including new adaptations of segmented blades, advanced root joints and pultruded spars.
In addition, new direct-drive concepts that apply ironless core designs are moving closer to full-scale testing and offer the promise of significantly improved torque-to-weight ratios without expensive and heavy rare-earth elements.
In the geared space, the move toward medium-speed drivetrains in larger megawatt-rated turbines is finally gaining some traction, while the demand for towers higher than 100 meters is increasing every year.
Advanced control capabilities are being developed to tie these new technologies together, most notably in the areas of load reduction via independent pitch control and turbine lifetime monitoring, MAKE notes.
Collaboration will be the key to success, the firm adds, and effective alliances will be successful when innovative component concepts are combined with thoughtful systems engineering.