Project Development, Wind Power

Turbine Shortage Slows Wind Power Industry

The U.S. wind energy market suffers from a shortage of wind turbines, and that situation looks likely to continue through 2007, according to the American Wind Energy Association, which summarized the proceedings of its recent Wind Energy Fall Symposium held last week in La Quinta, California.

The tight market, caused in large part by the on-off cycle of the federal production tax credit (PTC) incentive for wind, occupied much of the discussion at the Symposium’s Large Wind Turbine Vendor Forum. The session, moderated by Adam Umanoff of the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP, featured panelists from five wind turbine manufacturers: Rashid Abdul of Mitsubishi Power Systems, Leif Anderson of Suzlon Wind Energy Corp., Bob Gates of GE Energy, Scott Kringen of Vestas Americas and Peter Stricker of Clipper Windpower, Inc. Suzlon’s Andersen summed up the feelings of the panel when he commented, in response to a question about the “biggest challenge facing the industry,” that “The biggest hurdle is the stop-go policy situation in the U.S. — you can’t build a sustainable industry based on that type of policy. Creating a long-term, stable market is the biggest challenge. At the end of 2007 [when the PTC is scheduled to expire], we don’t know what happens. Are we looking at 100 MW in 2008? How are we going to share that with five or six manufacturers?” The viewpoints offered by other participants made it clear that the boom and bust portions of the PTC cycle each have their own frustrations. In the current boom time, every turbine that is made can be sold, but only so many can be made. Noted Gates, “Turbine suppliers have pushed to the physical limits, but demand has surged past them. At GE Wind, we’ll manufacture 1,000 turbines in 2005. The previous record year was 600 turbines, and the record before that was 300. So that’s a growth rate of almost 100% per year, and it’s a huge stretch to make more, just with the physical reality of making the parts you need for the turbines.” Looking ahead, Mitsubishi’s Abdul said he foresees similar constraints affecting the market in the future: “You’ll hear what U.S. demand should be, and what [manufacturers] should do to meet it, but I plead with you to keep in mind what the global needs are. As the global demand for same resources and manufactured goods is felt throughout the world, the U.S. is going to feel pressure in getting its share of global [turbine] production. We have to be realistic in looking at global demand, and U.S. demand, and how it all works out.” Manufacturers are looking at a variety of strategies to deal with what Gates called the “consistent inconsistency” of the U.S. market, the panelists said. Among them: modifying turbine designs to reduce the scale of large parts such as castings that are current choke points in the manufacturing supply chain; finding customers with the capability to place advance orders for large numbers of turbines, thereby reducing the manufacturer’s inventory risk; and simply declining to “flood the market” during boom times and aiming instead for slow, steady increases in production. Approximately 400 people attended the first-ever Fall Symposium, designed as an educational and networking event and held at the La Quinta Resort & Club. The Symposium offered 12 distinct, in-depth half-day sessions in three concurrent tracks on a range of topics of current interest, and also included two networking receptions. Information courtesy of the American Wind Energy Association