Why full-power wind converters are not overtaking the market yet

High prices for rare earth materials, lagging offshore wind development, and high demand for doubly-fed converters by China continue to hamper the market.


IHS Inc.The global market for utility-scale onshore wind converters continues to be led by doubly fed (DFIG) converters, according to a new report entitled “The World Market for Wind Converters – 2013” from IHS Inc.

DFIG converters are forecast to outpace full-conversion products by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.6% from 2012 to 2017, reaching more than 9,900 units shipped in 2017. Three major factors are hindering the sales of full-conversion products in the converter market: high rare earth material prices, lagging offshore wind development and China’s high demand for doubly-fed converters.

Figure 1: Rare Earth elements price evolution (Base year 2009). Courtesy: IHS Inc.

“In the first case, the high price of rare earth materials has led turbine original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and generator manufacturers to reduce production costs by using less rare earth materials in their designs,” said Jared Kearby, analyst at IHS. “This has resulted in an emphasis on continuing the production of doubly fed converter solutions, due to the increased demand.” This year, doubly-fed converter shipments will outpace full-converter shipments by 4%. 

Figure 2: Global shipment forecast for utility-scale onshore wind converters, by conversion type. Courtesy: IHS Inc.

A number of companies, in fact, have put a halt on offering permanent magnet (PM) generators and full-power wind converters, due to the lack of demand from developers and turbine OEMs. Now instead of a complete switch from DFIG to full conversion during the next five years, there will first be a shift toward medium-speed generators using doubly fed generators combined with a reduced gearbox. Over an extended amount of time, another slow transition will likely take place toward permanent magnet, full-conversion low-speed generators without a gearbox. The swing in products has already started as medium-speed generators are currently being implemented, and the trend will continue to hold for the next 15 to 20 years.

The second factor impacting full-conversion product sales stems from a slowdown of offshore installations, which did not increase as previously expected, because of delays in sitting permits and lack of investment in 2012. As a result, offshore utility-scale converter shipments were revised down by 14% compared to earlier 2012 projections. With close to 58% of shipped offshore converters bearing a full-conversion solution in 2012, the growth of the offshore wind market will have a direct impact on the use of full-conversion products into 2017 and beyond.

A third factor is the Chinese wind industry, which also carries significant impact on the converter market because of the country’s large market size. China last year accounted for more than 25% of global converter shipments for the onshore utility-scale market. Given the country’s importance in the wind converter market, China’s continued use of DFIG solutions has also brought down the sales of full-conversion products. China’s doubly fed converter market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 2.4% in terms of shipments from 2012 to 2017, higher than the 1.7% CAGR for full-power converters being shipped to the country during the same period.

Overall, doubly fed converters will remain the predominant technology in wind turbines, making up 78% of total wind converter shipments in 2017. Full-conversion products, meanwhile, will become the industry standard for wind applications in the next 20 years as rare earth prices stabilize and offshore wind development increases.

No comments
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
HVAC and building envelope: Efficient, effective systems; Designing fire sprinkler systems; Wireless controls in buildings; 2015 Product of the Year winners
2015 MEP Giants: MEP Giants annual report; Mergers and acquisitions; NFPA 2001; Fiber-optic cables; LED specifications
Hospital IAQ: Indoor air quality in health care facilities; NFPA 72; Water use and conservation; Net-zero buildings
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Implementing microgrids: Controlling campus power generation; Understanding cogeneration systems; Evaluating UPS system efficiency; Driving data center PUE, efficiency
Optimizing genset sizing; How the Internet of Things affects the data center; Increasing transformer efficiency; Standby vs. emergency power in mission critical facilities
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.