Balsa Wood Shortage Affecting Wind Turbine Production

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New wind power projects could potentially be facing delays due to a balsa wood supply shortage.

Balsa wood, which is more often know to be used in surfboards, table tennis bats and model aircraft also happens to be a main component in the cord of wind turbine blades due to its properties of being strong and lightweight. Prices of the material have nearly doubled in the past year and the shortage of its supply threatens to cause a delay in windfarms developments over the next year.

Tobias Hahn, who is the chief executive of Diab Group, one of the top three suppliers of materials for turbine blades, has stated that the shortages seen in Balsa is one of the biggest shortages out of all the materials that are used in the turbines.

Balsa wood is mainly grown in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Ecuador. The produces in these countries are actually benefitting from the shortage as the increased prices are likely to keep rising.

This shortage comes at a crucial time as 2020 is looking to be a year with a big surge in windfarms. Newly installed wind capacity is expected in the world’s two biggest economies, USA and China, and it is expected to be a big year for them both.

Shashi Barla of Wood Mackenzie expects 2020 to be a big year for these two countries in terms of wind farms.

Other analysts at Wood Mackenzie have predicted that 75 gigawatts of energy will be added to the total wind power capacity globally. In context 2019 saw an addition of 67 gigawatts.

Due to the current shortages in Balsa, PET a plastic material is more and more being used as a substitute material for turbine blades, which now currently accounts for around 30 % of the market. However, increased demand in PET due to the lack of balsa is now causing a shortage of PET so manufacturers are now using PVC as another alternative.

The Balsa shortage has not been helped by the wet season that Ecuador faced this year. The season lasted for longer than average and also saw many heavy downpours which has caused a poorer harvest than normal and has made transporting the wood out of Ecuador very difficult. Production is set to take another hit again as the wet season will soon be starting again.

An owner of a firm who produces balsa in Ecuador has said he sees it difficult to see a solution to this problem at any point over the next couple of years.

This balsa shortage will more than likely have a negative effect on the installation of windfarms around the world, especially in China. This is bad timing as China have plans to introduce 29 gigawatts of wind power capacity to their national grid in the next year, up from 21 gigawatts in 2018. The story is similar in the USA where they plan to increase their capacity by 14.5 gigawatts in the next year, compared with 8 gigawatts in 2018.

Chinas presence in this issue does not help the situation. Ecuador has many Chinese intermediaries who have lots of money to spend. This means they can outbid one another, and manufacturers from other countries, further increasing the price of balsa and limiting how much is available for the rest of the world.

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