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The wind turbine blade market has been forecast to drop over the next 10 years, from a global total of 63,405 installed last year, the figure will actually decrease to 45,675 come the end of the decade, primarily due to increases in the average turbine capacity.
However, the global cumulative wind power installed capacity is set to show steady growth until the end of the decade, increasing from 238,600 megawatts (MW) last year to 658,449 MW by the end of 2020.
Wood and canvas sails were used on early windmills due to their low price, availability, and ease of manufacture. Smaller blades can be made from light metals such as aluminium. These materials, however, require frequent maintenance.
Wood and canvas construction limits the airfoil shape to a flat plate, which has a relatively high ratio of drag to force captured (low aerodynamic efficiency) compared to solid airfoils. Construction of solid airfoil designs requires inflexible materials such as metals or composites. Some blades also have incorporated lightning conductors.
New wind turbine designs push power generation from the single megawatt range to upwards of 10 megawatts using larger and larger blades. A larger area effectively increases the tip-speed ratio of a turbine at a given wind speed, thus increasing its energy extraction. Computer-aided engineering software such as HyperSizer (originally developed for spacecraft design) can be used to improve blade design.
The growing proliferation of offshore wind farms will see a decreasing share of the global wind turbine rotor blade market allotted to onshore installations. It is estimated that in 2020 offshore wind farms will account for 11% of all installed rotor blades, whereas last year this share did not reach even 1%.
Wind rotor blades used for onshore and offshore wind turbines are not significantly different in terms of design, structure or composition; however, larger blades are used for offshore applications due to the larger turbine size and rated power output.
The largest wind rotor blade market in 2011 (by a substantial margin) was China, who held a massive 59% share with 37,385 installations. The US came a relatively distant second, with an installed total of 11,085 rotor blades accounting for 18% of the global market, while India were third with an 11% share.
Global annual blade installations increased steadily from 2006 to 2009 due to more wind farms coming online as a result of favourable governmental policies in several countries and also due to increasing environmental awareness.
However, the financial crisis in 2009 severely affected investment in most industries, including wind energy, leading to a low number of planned projects reaching financial closure. This resulted in a fall in the number of blades installed in 2010.
There was a sharp rise in the capacity of wind power installed in 2011 and the same is expected in 2012 as most of the projects suspended in 2010 will be completed in these years.
For more information on the wind turbine blade market, see the latest research: Wind Turbine Blade Market
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