Please Note: Blog posts are not selected, edited or screened by Seeking Alpha editors.

Commercial-Scale Wind Turbines: Past, Present & Future

|Includes: American Superconductor Corporation (AMSC), ZNEPF

The wind turbine industry has a variety of sectors and specialist niches that present opportunities for the savvy investor.  While each of these sectors has their own unique drivers, developments and trends, it is in the commercial-scale wind sector that we get to see the full range of just what is technically possible in wind turbine design.

I recently completed a series of summary articles that aims to give some perspective and detail to the technical evolution of wind turbine technology in this sector, and the challenges that each stage of development has attempted to address:

  • "Why Are Wind Turbines Getting Bigger?": this article reviews the trends in turbine size of the past 20 years, and describes the specific technical reasons for the trend, beyond simply "bigger is better";

  • "How Does The Use Of Permanent Magnets Make Wind Turbines More Reliable?": covers the evolution of wind turbine electrical machinery, from doubly fed induction generators with multi-stage mechanical gearboxes, to hybrid gearbox - permanent magnet generators, and all the way to designs based solely on permanent magnet direct drive generators, that eliminate the mechanical gearbox altogether;

  • "10 MW And Beyond: Are Superconductors The Future Of Wind Energy?": looks at the "bleeding edge" of commercial-scale turbine design, and the use of superconducting materials to produce some remarkable results. This article looks at ongoing projects by American Superconductor Corp & TECO Westinghouse, Advanced Magnet Lab, and Zenergy Power & Converteam.

Permanent magnet-based generators are upon us now, with a variety of producers making them, although we have yet to see wide scale implementation in large wind farms.  We are a year or two away from the first up-and-running demonstrator 8-10 MW generators based on superconductors, and, according to those in the industry, anything from 5 to 15 years away from seeing full-scale implementation at the commercial-scale sector.  Hopefully this gives us time to get a new generation of electrical and mechanical engineers trained up on the new electrical machine topologies, and the materials used to improve effectiveness and reliability.

It is clear that there will be considerable overlap of wind turbine technologies for the foreseeable future, across the various power output sub-sectors in the industry.  This is somewhat reassuring as we look at, for example, the sourcing and scaling challenges associated with rare earth-based permanent magnets for large turbines, or the not completely solved production challenges for superconducting coils and devices.

Disclosure: No Positions