Top ten OEMs' R&D spending 'doubles in four years'

The world's top ten turbine manufacturers have more than doubled their research and development (R&D) spending in the last four years, with their combined investment reaching €1.6 billion in 2018, according to new analysis.

ORE Catapult's 15MW nacelle test facility
ORE Catapult's 15MW nacelle test facility

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Their collective annual R&D investment is now expected to hit €2.3 billion over the next four years, according to analysts at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables (WMPR).

The increases in spending are due to the industry’s efforts to reduce the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) and manufacturers’ attempts to avoid the compression of sales margins for new products, principal analyst Shashi Barla explained.

"Turbine technology investments are central to lowering LCOE below the €15-20/MWh mark and mitigating developers and off-takers’ increased exposure to merchant power prices," he added.

Driving change

Barla expects 7-8MW onshore turbines with 200-metre-plus rotors to be available by 2025, and 20MW offshore wind turbines with 280-metres-plus rotors by 2030.

To date, the largest onshore turbine announced is Siemens Gamesa's 5.8MW model, while GE's 12MW Haliade-X has the highest power rating offshore. 

Barla added rotor diameter "remains the central product differentiator" for manufacturers and was crucial to boosting power capacity.

"The knock-on impact of blade enlargement requires continued innovation on rotor, tower and drivetrain technologies in order to bend cost/performance curves," he added.

John Korsgaard, senior director for engineering excellence at LM Wind Power, told the Global Wind Summit in Hamburg in 2018, that 20MW offshore turbines are "perfectly feasible".

He added that innovations such as progress in production, transportation and installation techniques, high-strength and low-cost material combinations, and advanced aerodynamic blade control features and control systems to reduce loads would help drive this change.

Markets

Barla noted that high-volume markets drive new product development.

For example, in China, ultra-low wind IEC IV class turbines, within the 3.XMW range, are becoming mainstream platforms, while in India most OEMs are expected to move to 3MW onshore machines, he added.

Meanwhile, Scandinavian markets have typically been early adopters of next-generation turbine technologies.

And as the wind power industry moves into new markets — some with uniquely challenging wind regimes — a move to a product platform development approach will increase the number of new product variants customised to specific areas, Barla said.

"Lower product development costs, flexibility in component sourcing, stronger supplier relationships and increased economies of scale will result in a more cost-effective approach to mass customisation," he added.

"This will address the global procurement needs of developers and asset owners."

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