Tapping Wind's Potential

Sept. 15, 2009
New automation technology study weighs benefits of wind turbine industry.

Wind power is one of the fastest-growing sources of energy around the world. Its popularity comes as a result of its abundance, providing communities with a clean, local source of electricity. At the moment, though, wind accounts for just 1% of U.S. electricity use. But that is about to change in a hurry.

According to a new market study from the Automation Technologies Council, the wind turbine market is undergoing rapid growth, and signs suggest it has reached the point where automation technologies may be needed for continued expansion.

In the United States, wind energy gets a federal tax credit of 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Energy has set the goal of 30% energy from wind by 2030. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act also provides a 30% investment tax credit to purchasers of wind turbines. In 2008 alone, the worldwide wind turbine market grew by 28.7%.

Though automation technology is beginning to appear in blade manufacturing, tower welding, blade angle adjustment, nacelle adjustment and blade inspection, its presence is still very limited. The ATC study says the wind turbine industry has few, if any, standards of quality control in its production. As a result, structural defects are common, requiring frequent inspection and maintenance checkups.

Automation -- with the use of machine vision, motion control and robotic equipment in production processes -- will inevitably address many of these problems. But for now, says the study, the manufacturing processes are largely inefficient.

A PDF of the study is available free in its entirety to members of the Automated Imagining Association, the Motion Control Association and the Robotics Industries Association.

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