Insights into Wind Turbine Blades in North America: A Conversation with Ken Lee, Fleet Engineering Manager at EDF Renewables
The rapid growth of wind power in North America is driving requirements for longer blades, particularly with the rise of offshore installations. Developing a local supply chain to meet these demands is critical to support the booming industry.
Ken Lee, is a Fleet Engineering Manager at EDF Renewables, with years of expertise in Europe and US markets, and a profound understanding of the intricacies of wind turbine blades. Ahead of AMI’s Wind Turbine Blades Event in Boston, he offers insights into the challenges and opportunities that shape the industry’s landscape.
Do you believe the local blade supply chain in North America is developed enough to support the announced installation targets in US, and if not, what are the key gaps in the supply chain?
The massive numbers on US installation targets will present both challenges and opportunities in North America. My personal opinion is that the question is not whether the supply chain is developed enough, but the question is whether the demand for US installations will remain secured to motivate key industry players in the supply chain to expand their operations to serve the market needs. It is challenging on the OEM side to make decisions on blade manufacturing supply expansion or development in the US without 100% certainty in the US offshore market demand. At the moment, we have the infrastructure and land but nothing committed yet as far as near-port blade manufacturing (at least to my knowledge, outside of early press release announcements). So with that, no, the local supply chain has not developed far enough yet to meet those targets today, but some strides are being made towards what needs to be developed to meet those goals.
The blades for the offshore market will be massive, in excess of 100+ meters. So we need to see some movement of blade manufacturing supply centers in North America to support the needs of the market. We have very capable US-based blade manufacturers with facilities inland. Outside of manufacturing, we are seeing some movement in infrastructure of testing of very large blades (US-Mass CEC) in test facilities outfitted with advanced hardware to simulate accelerated lifetime loading as close to realistic conditions as possible. The US wind industry has also realized the workforce gap that needs to be developed in the coming years to support the entire lifecycle of an offshore installation from blade manufacturing through phases of wind farm construction & operations-maintenance.
At EDF Renewables US, are you facing any challenges finding the right solutions in blade inspection and O&M after the warranty period?
Not to my knowledge or are we aware of any major challenges in blade inspection solutions. Aerial drone visual inspections have been common ground for most of us in the wind industry, for identifying blade damages that require repair/monitoring. These inspections are performed once before the end and annually after the warranty period for our onshore installations. For some sites, we are performing more frequent inspections.
There are situations where we would be challenged to identify the right solution to identify the severity or extent of damage impact to the structure (I.e. how deep the layers that are damaged penetrates subsurface) and the potential to monitor these damages with suitable blade monitoring sensor systems.
Another area of challenge lie in meeting the requirements for monitoring offshore blades and how frequent inspection should occur depending on the type of defects/damages that surfaces during the operational life of these blades. Accessibility will be a major driver behind whether we have the appropriate solutions in place for offshore blade O&M.
Do you think closer collaboration and communication between operators and design/manufacturing arm of blade manufacturers can reduce the LCOE as well as helping the OEMs’ bottom lines?
While I have to remain as unbiased as possible, I think the wind industry as a whole can benefit from open knowledge sharing of lessons learnt from operational experience with manufacturers and designers of the blade. The blade is a major component of a WTG and is not maintenance-free and blade O&M costs will only continue to rise as blades get larger and longer. Every aspect of the design and manufacturing will be very closely coupled which also means that a blade needs to be design with defect tolerance in mind and considerations of what is feasibly achievable in production, without increasing quality requirements that will slow production or produce too much quality rework. I think open sharing and collaboration with OEMs on blade damage remediation with operational experience inputs from operators like EDF, will only help remove barriers to mitigating rising costs in blade O&M that will impact both sides.
Are you expecting any delays in installation of your US offshore project (Atlantic Shores) due to blades and/or turbine supply availability?
When a project is committed for delivery, our expectations are that schedules and timelines are met. There can always be unforeseen delays and project risks, but it is too early to comment on whether blades/turbine supply availability will play a major role in potential delays. It will be critical however during the ramp up to meet peak demand not only from our own projects, but also others that are deploying US offshore installation, that quality of the delivered product is not compromised or sacrificed in place of rushing timelines. EDF will always work with our turbine suppliers to ensure that we can still stay on track to meet the goals for timeline and delivery of our inaugural offshore project in the US. These may require additional resources on our part performing the appropriate level of quality audit and surveillance from the time the blade materials are laid into the mold, transported out of factory to construction, and up to commissioning.
How are you addressing recycling and LCM in your current and future installations?
For all wind farms under its control, EDF Renewables commits to either reuse, recycle, or recover the decommissioned wind turbine blades. EDF is taking steps to develop competitive advantage over our competitors, anticipating the evolution of regulation evolution likely in EU & US, and identifying most economical solutions with strategic solution providers to mitigate rising costs for landfilling. In future installations, EDF is keen on working with our strategic procurement & new turbine qualification teams specifically with consideration towards the supply chain readiness to provide recyclable blade products economically to projects both onshore/offshore. EDF is also making efforts to identify the right solutions that will allow us to reuse/re-purpose or recover material from blades that can be used as raw materials for other composites applications.
Hear from Ken Lee and more at AMI’s Wind Turbine Blades North America event, taking place September 26-27, 2023 in Boston, MA, USA. Speakers from DoE, MassCEC, Vestas, Orsted, LM Wind and more provide comprehensive perspective on the blades demand outlook in the region, the current status of the supply chain, and growth opportunities for the blades sector and its suppliers. Additionally, it provides updates on innovations in blade manufacturing, inspection and O&M.
To find out more about the event and to secure your place, please visit the website: www.ami.ltd/event-wind-usa
Note: The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of offshoreWIND.biz