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The US Department of Energy’s recently published 2009 Wind Technologies Market Report shows a rising trend in domestically manufactured turbine equipment.  According to AWEA’s annual market report, the share of domestically manufactured turbine components grew from 20-25% in 2005 to around 50% in 2009.

Financially, the numbers show a decreased dependence in imported turbine equipment in 2009 than the previous two years.  Despite the industry’s largest installation growth in 2009, only $4.2 billion was spent on imported parts and goods, compared to $4.6 billion spent in 2007 and an industry peak of $5.4 billion spent in 2008.  When we look at it in terms of percentage, it’s even more promising.  Around 85% of total turbine cost was spent on imported parts in 2006, decreasing dramatically over the next four years to 39% in 2009.  These figures consider the fact that some parts may be purchased in the previous year and used in the following, and a four month lag was adjusted to compensate for this assumption, and the analysis is made from September of the previous year to August of the following.

Wind Power Equipment Imports as a Fraction of Total Turbine Cost

Wind Power Equipment Imports as a Fraction of Total Turbine Cost

The United States still leads the way in global importation of turbine equipment, representing approximately 34% of worldwide imports.  This seems like a rather significant percentage – especially since no other country reached 10% of global imports – but keep in mind, 2009 installations increased our annual capacity by almost 10,000 MW.  Plus, the United States contributed rather significantly to global installations, placing second after China (13,750 additional MW).  Spain trails in third with a significantly lower 2,331 additional MW installed.

Continuation of the domestic production trend could lead to future economic benefits.  Last year, 13 new facilities opened and 21 were announced.  Because of increased domestic production, a number of American manufacturers previously inactive in the wind energy sector were able to transition into the industry.  As a result of these developments, AWEA estimates that the wind energy sector employed around 85,000 full-time employees in 2009.  Although these figures were the same in 2008, the number of job-years was significantly higher for 2009 than for 2008.  This suggests that wind energy is providing stable jobs to our economy.

Based on the numerous sector projects announced in 2009, the US Department of Energy expects increased domestic production in the years ahead, but only if our wind power market remains stable.   Enforcing a national RPS could greatly facilitate the stability of the wind market.  Unfortunately, as we have mentioned in our previous blog post, a national RPS is no longer included in the energy bill.  We continue to encourage you to contact your Senators and urge for the inclusion of a renewable energy standard in future legislation.

FLOWE (1)

Scientists erecting a VAWT at FLOWE

A group of CalTech researchers are looking to redesign our future wind farms by observing the way fish swim in schools.  Fluid dynamics expert, John Dabiri, recently purchased two acres of land north of Los Angeles, where he established the CalTech Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy (FLOWE).  The project was inspired by the findings from a classroom research study conducted by graduate students, Robert Wittlesey and Sebastian Liska, supervised by Dabiri.  Their results suggest that there may be substantial benefits to placing vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWT) in a strategic array, and that some configurations may allow the turbines to work more efficiently as a result of their relationship to others around them.

These results go against the industry norm as the most commonly used wind turbine in today’s market is the horizontal-axis wind turbine (HAWT).  Unlike the HAWT, the VAWT has no propellers and uses a vertical rotor to generate electricity.  Because of this design, these devices can be placed on smaller plots of land in a denser pattern.

So what do schools of fish have to do with the placement of wind turbines?

“[T]here is constructive hydrodynamic interference between the wakes of neighboring fish,” says Dabiri. “It turns out that many of the same physical principles can be applied to the interaction of vertical-axis wind turbines.”

When fish swim in schools, they align themselves strategically to optimize their forward propulsion, conserving maximum energy.  While studying the vortices left behind by these fish, Dabiri observed some that rotated clockwise, while others rotated counterclockwise.

These observations contrast with current wind farm designs, where turbines sit neatly in rows, all spinning the same way.  Dabiri, along with his team, are applying the patterns of these vortices to the placement of their wind turbines in hopes of obtaining maximum energy extraction.  Most often, VAWTS are smaller in size and used in residential settings.  The results of FLOWE could potentially change this limitation. As the technology becomes more advanced and is tested further, utility-scale applications could be on the horizon.  Once the team identifies the optimal placement, Dabiri believes it may be possible to produce more than 10 times the amount of energy currently provided by a farm of horizontal turbines.  However, as with any technology, we will to wait and see how it evolves.

VAWTs have been around for thousands of years, yet they still have not made a significant dent in the modern, commercial wind market.  Many industry experts, such as Ian Woofenden, believe VAWTs to be in many ways inferior to the traditional HAWT.  Their main inferiority, according to Woofenden, lies in company overhype of underperforming technologies, leading the consumer to believe that VAWTs are superior to HAWTs.

To salvage the VAWT’s reputation, AWEA created the Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC), an independent certification body that certifies small wind turbines to meet or exceed AWEA’s Small Wind Turbine Performance and Safety Standard.  The Council started accepting applications in February and many small wind companies, such as Windspire Energy, are eager to get certified.  Windspire Energy has provided three turbines for FLOWE.  In exchange, Dabiri will share his research results with the company.

Currently, FLOWE is in its initial phase, but Dabiri has big goals for the project.  He purposely chose to place the turbines in a real-world condition, as opposed to a computer generated model or a laboratory wind tunnel.  Dabiri feels that a field demonstration can easily facilitate a future expansion from a basic science project into a power-generating facility.  If the results of the pilot program are significantly favorable, Dabiri and his team hope to transition to power-generation experiments, where the power can be put to use either locally or via grid connection.  This could allow us to build wind farms closer to urban centers and power centers, reducing the cost of power transmission.

China Wind Farm

Photo by: Mike Locke

The United States wind industry gained a new competitor as China surpasses Germany last year to reach the world’s #2 spot for total installed capacity.  Currently, the US sits in a comfortable lead with 35,159 MW of total installed capacity;but with China’s exponential installation growth, our hold may not be very strong.  According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), in 2004, there were only 764 MW of wind capacity installed in China.  That number has been doubling almost every year, reaching 25,805 MW by the end of 2009.

Goals for wind turbine installations have been growing as well.  In 2007, China announced a national target of 5,000 MW installed by 2010.  Only a year later, that number increased to 10,000 MW.  After a whopping 13,785 MW growth in 2009, China set a new target of 35,000 MW installed by 2011, and 150,000 MW installed by 2020—a fivefold jump from the original 30,000 MW goal in 2007 and 50,000 MW more ambitious than the US goal of 100,000 MW installed by 2020.

The push behind China’s renewable energy boom lies in their National Renewable Energy Legislation.  First effective in 2006, the legislation states a national preference for the development and utilization of alternative energy resources.  This meant setting a national commitment of 15% renewable energy use by 2020 and providing increased government funding for green energy research and projects.  The legislation also requires power grid operators to purchase all energy generated from renewable sources, with a penalty for those who do not abide.

wind turbine production

Engineers work on a wind turbine part.

Despite our difference in governing styles, the United States could stand to learn a thing or two from China’s National REL—especially in the economic success it has created.  According to the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA), renewable energy accounted for 1.12 million jobs in 2008 and is climbing by 100,000 each year.  The majority of these jobs come from manufacturing companies.  China is currently the leading producer of wind turbines and solar panels.  In the wind industry, that success was facilitated by the adoption of the “70% domestic” rule in 2004 which states that all turbines in Chinese wind farms must have at least 70% of its parts made in Chinese factories.  The impact was phenomenal.  The Chinese turbine production industry has grown from only six manufacturers in 2004 to nearly 90 at the end of 2009.  The government recently abolished this requirement to allow for more participation in the international market.  According to GWEC, only 17 Chinese-made wind turbines were exported in 2009.

The American market has the potential to grow at such an electrifying pace as well if we adopt a National RES.  The “Job Impacts of a National Renewable Energy Standard” study, conducted in 2009 and published by the RES Alliance for Jobs, found that a 25% by 2025 national standard would support an additional 274,000 jobs than an industry without a public policy.  The American Solar Energy Society’s (ASES) Green Jobs Report also forecasts more favorable outcomes for implementing an RES.  In the “business as usual” scenario, which means no changes in policy or major initiatives, the report only predicts a 130% increase in revenue and a 160% increase in jobs created in the next two decades.  The alternative scenario, which calls for a sustained public policy commitment, predicts a potential revenue growth of 1,200% and a 1,300% increase in jobs in the next two decades.  These are astounding differences for the adoption of one piece of legislation.

Figure 1

Change in Renewable Electricity Supported Jobs in 2025 With a 25% RES by 2025.

Every other summer, my parents and I take a trip back to China to visit our family.  I will never forget how my homeland greets me as I step onto its streets.  Outside, the sun burns earnestly on a cloudless horizon.  Its light is obscured by a permanent layer of smog, causing the sky to remain a dusty gray-blue hue and trapping in the oppressive heat.  Take a breath, and the summer’s fever invades the lungs, infecting the veins within milliseconds.  “Sauna days,” my uncle chuckles as he lifts my last suitcase into the car, “do you miss them?”

I don’t.  I really don’t.  Sauna days are the worst part of my Eastern adventures.  Hopefully, these muggy summers become more bearable with the help of a strong national commitment to greener energy, making my future vacations a lot more enjoyable.  As for the rest of the seasons I spend in the good old US of A, here’s hoping we are headed in the same direction.

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