U.S. no longer top wind turbine producer, replaced by China

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2016

General Electric Co. has ceded its position as the world’s No. 1 wind turbine manufacturer to a Chinese competitor, according to 2015 market data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co. Ltd. received orders for 7.8 gigawatts of new wind turbines in 2015, exceeding GE, which dropped to No. 3 globally with 5.9 GW of new commissioned capacity, according to BNEF. Vestas Wind Systems A/S of Denmark attracted 7.3 GW of new orders in 2015, solidifying its No. 2 ranking in the global supply chain.

While Goldwind maintains a North American headquarters in Chicago and has provided turbines to several U.S. wind farms, BNEF said that almost all of the company’s recent growth was in the Chinese market, where wind power developers are riding an unprecedented boom. About 29 GW of new capacity came online in China last year alone (ClimateWire, Feb. 2).

David Halligan, CEO of Goldwind Americas, said Goldwind is pleased to be at the forefront of a global wind market that “is growing at an exponential rate.”

“While Goldwind’s anchor is in China, our global aspirations remain strong and we are continuously looking for opportunities across many different geographies,” he said in email.

GE Renewable Energy, a division of the 124-year-old conglomerate that makes products from light bulbs and aircraft engines to advanced software applications, also saw rising demand for its advanced wind turbine technologies, especially in the United States, according to BNEF. But GE’s turbine orders increased by 700 megawatts over 2014 levels, a modest gain compared to its two largest rivals.

GE ranked atop BNEF’s turbine manufacturing index in 2014. But was outperformed by Vestas in 2013, when the U.S. supply chain contracted due to the expiration of the federal production tax credit (PTC) in late 2012.

Congress’ most recent extension of the 2.3-cent-per-kilowatt-hour PTC should help firms like GE and Vestas further grow their U.S. markets. But catching up with a soaring China may prove difficult.

“China has just as many complex barriers to renewable power integration as we do, but it also has a strong national commitment to scaling up renewable energy,” said Kate Gordon, vice chairwoman of climate and urban sustainability at the Paulson Institute, which has worked closely with government and private-sector partners to promote clean energy in China.

“Contrast that with the U.S., where our wind energy subsidies are on-again, off-again, and where states ratchet up and down renewable portfolio standards depending on the political winds,” she said.

Calls and emails to GE officials were not returned yesterday. But the company is not standing still in the global wind energy market. Its recent acquisition of the power and grid division of the French energy giant Alstom substantially expanded its renewable energy footprint and positioned the company as a leader in the highly active offshore wind power market, especially in Europe.

Jeff Immelt, GE’s chairman and CEO, called the $10.6 billion acquisition of Alstom’s power and grid business “another significant step in GE’s transformation.” GE now owns more than 30,000 wind turbines around the world. And its Alstom-designed Haliade turbines, rated at 6 MW, are set to be installed in a number of settings, including the first U.S. offshore wind farm in the Atlantic Ocean off Rhode Island.

While all Chinese turbine manufacturers fared well in 2015, Goldwind was the runaway leader among its peers, both domestic and international. Four other Chinese firms also ranked among the world’s top 10 turbine manufacturers. They include Guodian, Ming Yang, Envision and CSIC.

“It’s hardly surprising that five Chinese manufacturers made the top 10 ranking in a year where China contributed roughly half of the global capacity,” said Amy Grace, head of wind research for BNEF. “It is more surprising how dominant Goldwind was in its domestic market. The company commissioned more than 2 ½ times the amount of capacity as the next largest Chinese manufacturer, Guodian.”

A spokesman for Vestas, headquartered in Denmark but with a major manufacturing hub in Colorado, said in an email that the company enjoys a “truly global footprint,” with new wind energy projects launched in 34 countries last year, including the United States.

“The U.S. is obviously an important market for Vestas — our largest in terms of orders and deliveries in 2015,” said the spokesman, Michael Zarin. He added that Vestas employs an estimated 4,760 U.S. workers, more than in Denmark.

For onshore turbines, Germany’s Siemens AG and Spain’s Gamesa Corp. Tecnologica SA rounded out the top five manufacturers in 2015, with each attracting 3.1 GW of new orders. Siemens led all manufacturers in the offshore turbine market, commissioning 2.6 GW of new orders for the year, according to BNEF.

John Hensley, manager of industry data and analysis at the American Wind Energy Association, said that while Chinese turbine makers are making significant market gains in Asia, there is relatively little risk of a surge in turbine imports from China to the United States.

That’s in part because a wind farm’s primary components — nacelles, blades and towers — are large and expensive to ship on oceangoing vessels. And once in the United States, the equipment must move by truck or rail from seaports to production sites mostly in the nation’s interior.

But Hensley also said that developers and financiers of U.S. wind farms are often more comfortable using domestically produced turbines that have been proven to work under varied weather conditions unique to the United States. “We expect that market trend to continue moving forward,” he said.