Winds of Change

Wind Turbine Manufacturers at the Tipping Point

Vestas’ announcement of its first quarter results came as another setback to the wind energy sector and mirrors the predicament of a number of wind turbine manufacturers, which is already suffering from turbine overcapacity, project delays and rising costs.

Vestas has been losing market shares in new installed wind turbine capacity since 2006, a stark contrast to its cost-competitive Chinese counterparts - Sinovel Wind Group and Xinjiang GoldWind Science & Technology in particular - whose market shares have been on a steady ascent in the past years. That these market positions might change in the future cannot be ignored, however. Both Sinovel and GoldWind’s net income fell in the first quarter of this year, owing from a decelerating Chinese wind power sector and an aggressive domestic price competition.  While one can argue that there are still technological discrepancies between Asian and Western turbine manufacturers, Vestas’ problems with its gearboxes on the V90-3.0 MW turbines did little to help its case. In the current situation of rising raw material prices, high turbine inventories and fierce price wars, it is in the interest of turbine manufacturers to keep their costs as low as possible to preserve their margins.

With a cumulative installed capacity of 3.5 GW, the offshore wind power market accounted for 1.5 per cent of the total wind power market in 2011. With large scale commercial offshore wind farms currently under construction and in the planning phase, offshore wind power capacity is expected to reach 52.1 GW in 2020 by growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35.1 per cent from 2011, and will contribute 7.1 per cent of the total wind power market by 2020.

Whilst wind turbine companies could seek refuge from the prospects in the offshore wind power sector, growth in this market is tempered by poor market conditions, lack of an offshore grid and difficulties in accessing credit. Uncertainties in the regulatory and economic climate are the prime reasons why both Nordex and Doosan Power Systems pulled the plug from its offshore wind power business. This sentiment is also echoed by Gamesa who with its partner Newport News Shipbuilding, halted plans to install its 5MW prototype turbine in the US.

In addition, there is stiff competition from incumbent players who are armed with sufficient financial and operational muscle to invest in Research & Development (R&D), as proven technology is increasingly becoming an important selling proposition to thrive in the offshore wind power business. Mitsubishi Power Systems Europe, Samsung Heavy Industries and Ming Yang are a few of those companies who are investing in its offshore wind power technology development.

Whether the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a 30 per cent investment tax credit available to a number of renewable energy plants in the US, will be extended is another hurdle for offshore wind turbine manufacturers. If indeed this is not renewed at the end of this year, Vestas for instance would need to cut a chunk of its US workforce that will hamper its ability to turnaround its performance and bring back investor confidence. In a similar vein, US offshore wind plant developers will likely find it difficult to find financing for its projects if the PTC is not extended.

Jennifer Santos is GlobalData’s Head of Energy Consulting Services.

Photograph: Getty Images

Jennifer Santos is GlobalData’s Head of Energy Consulting Services.

Getty Images.
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Scottish Labour's defeat to the Tories confirms a political transformation

The defining divide is no longer between left and right but between unionist and nationalist.

It was Scotland where Labour's recovery was supposed to begin. Jeremy Corbyn's allies predicted that his brand of left-wing, anti-austerity politics would dent the SNP's hegemony. After becoming leader, Corbyn pledged that winning north of the border would be one of his greatest priorities. 

But in the first major elections of his leadership, it has proved to be Labour's greatest failure. A result that was long thought unthinkable has come to pass: the Conservatives have finished second (winning 31 seats). For the first time since the 1910 election, Labour has finished third (winning 24). Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale stood on a left-wing platform, outflanking the SNP on tax (pledging to raise the top rate to 50p and increase the basic rate by 1p), promising to spend more on public services and opposing the renewal of Trident. But rather than advancing, the party merely retreated.

Its fate confirms how Scottish politics has been realigned. The defining divide is no longer between left and right but between unionist and nationalist. With the SNP as the only major pro-independence party, the Tories, led by the pugnacious Ruth Davidson, framed themselves as the pro-UK alternative - and prospered. In contrast, Dugdale refused to rule out supporting a second referendum and suggested that MPs and MSPs would be free to campaign for secession. The result was that Scottish Labour was left looking dangerously irrelevant. "Identity politics. Labour doesn't get it," a shadow minister told me. Its socialist pitch counted for little in a country that remains ideologically closer to England than thought. The SNP has lost its majority (denying it a mandate for a second referendum) - an outcome that the electoral system was always designed to make impossible. But its rule remains unthreatened. 

Corbyn's critics will seek to pin the baleful result on him. "We turned left and followed Jeremy's politics in Scotland, which far from solving our problems, pushed us into third," a senior opponent told me. But others will contend that a still more left-wing leader, such as Neil Findlay, is needed. Dugdale is personally supportive of Trident and was critical of Corbyn before his election. Should she be displaced, the party will be forced to elect its sixth leader in less than five years. But no one is so short-sighted as to believe that one person can revive the party's fortunes. Some Corbyn critics believe that a UK-wide recovery is a precondition of recovery north of the border. At this juncture, they say, SNP defectors would look anew at the party as they contemplate the role that Scottish MPs could play in a Westminster government. But under Corbyn, having become the first opposition to lose local election seats since 1985, it is yet further from power. 

In Scotland, the question now haunting Labour is not merely how it recovers - but whether it ever can. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.