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Challenges as wind turbine producers aim to meet demand for more powerful generators

In late 2019, the European Union unveiled its ‘Green Deal’ – a roadmap of actions which will help the bloc to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean and circular economy. Increasing the availability of renewable energy – and wind in particular – is a cornerstone of the Green Deal and will see wind energy account for at least half of Europe’s electricity needs by 2050. Meeting this demand will require Europe to install over twice as much new wind energy each year as it managed in 2019. Achieving that target will require significant efforts from electrical steel producers, and manufacturers of wind power generators such as ArcelorMittal customer, Indar Wind Energy.

Growth from onshore and offshore installations

According to WindEurope, an association which represents companies active in the European wind energy sector: “Climate neutrality and the Green Deal [will] require Europe to install over twice as much new wind energy each year as it managed in 2019. And the growth needs to come from both offshore and onshore wind.”

Electrical steels are the core component in wind turbine generators. “That means electrical steel manufacturers such as ArcelorMittal are subject to the same market demands in terms of growth and competition as the rest of the supply chain,” notes Xabier Irure. “Electrical steel suppliers need to meet these challenges if they are to help the wind energy industry to stay ahead in the game.”

ArcelorMittal Europe – Flat Products has been one of the world’s leading suppliers of the non-grain oriented (NGO) electrical steels used in wind generators for decades. With the market demanding more powerful machines and higher efficiency to respond to industry pressure and initiatives such as the Green Deal, the development of new electrical steels and improvements to existing grades are more critical than ever.

“Development of the electrical steels we need requires an R&D team with a high level of technical skill and an organisation which can produce them,” notes Xabier Irure. “These are some of ArcelorMittal’s main strengths. That’s why ArcelorMittal has been on Indar’s supplier panel for many years as one of our main sources of NGO steels.”

Indar Wind Energy generators can be used in both onshore and offshore wind turbines [© Indar Wind Energy]

High-tech steels required to meet the challenge

ArcelorMittal is also able to supply the heavy plate which is required to meet market demand for taller and more powerful windmills (turbines). “Onshore turbines are typically between 70 and 160 metres and generate from 2 to more than 6 megawatts (MW) of energy,” explains Xabier Irure. “When it comes to offshore, bigger is better. OEMs are already working on projects which can generate more than 12 MW of energy. These towers will be up to 240 metres in height.”

Organisations such as the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) are forecasting growth in new installations over the next four years. For example, GWEC foresee an average growth rate of 2.7 percent annually. “The need for clean energy is set to increase rapidly in the next few years due to the roll-out of electrical vehicles, and the focus on renewable energy, particularly in Europe,” says Xabier Irure. “Wind power stakeholders, such as Indar Wind Energy, expect our need for electrical steels to boom as a result in the medium term. One of our concerns is the lack of local capacity to meet our needs for NGO electrical steels needs in the EU. Fortunately, we know ArcelorMittal is anticipating this issue and is well prepared to extend its own production capacities.”

One of the key challenges for Indar is the rapid development of new technologies and specifications for wind turbines. “Just five years ago, the design for a wind energy generator would have been used for 8 to 10 years,” explains Xabier Irure, global commercial director for Indar. “Today, three to five years is the life expectancy of a design. Within that time, an improved design will be launched. That implies more product validations, shorter time-to-market, and more complexity.”

Xabier Irure, global commercial director for Indar [© Indar Wind Energy]

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Copyright images: Indar; Shutterstock - Gunnar Pippel, Voyagerix, Rudmer Zwerver