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United States

Chinese firm bets on R&D for US market

UNITED STATES: Ming Yang Wind Power Group has opened a centre for research and development (R&D) in North Carolina's famed Research Triangle, a hub of high-tech innovation.

This is the first time a Chinese manufacturing firm has entered the US market through R&D.

Chinese wind turbines have a limited track record in the US and the company sees the centre as an effective opportunity to make itself known, said Shu Ching Quek, president of Ming Yang Wind Power USA.

The R&D centre opened last month at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. It will research both onshore and offshore technology and employ ten people by the end of the year. The firm expects the first technology to be ready for demonstration in three to four years.

The main focus for the R&D work will be to develop offshore wind turbine technology. In particular, it wants to make offshore turbines more reliable to bring down the cost of operations and maintenance. Ming Yang will also work on onshore turbines such as its 2MW model, which is currently a prototype, and on 3-4MW turbines.

The company makes many components in-house, such as blades, and has a basic co-development contract with Germany's Aerodyn to develop its SCD two-bladed wind turbines and share intellectual property (IP).

Ming Yang is planning to develop its own technology at the centre rather than merely refine Aerodyn's technology. "The Aerodyne collaboration is for SCD technology," said Quek. "Ming Yang sees this R&D centre as a pathway to its multi-generation vision for our future products. Having greater in-house expertise and IP only shows Ming Yang's strong commitment to achieving new heights."

Quek said the company wanted to open an R&D centre in the US, rather than China, because of its reputation for top international talent. If Ming Yang finds sufficient US customers, it will set up a US manufacturing base because of the cost of shipping internationally, Quek said.

Ming Yang has had a small office in Houston, Texas for some time. For almost two years until 2009, Ming Yang's US wind affiliate was minority-owned by Texan oil and gas provider GreenHunter Energy. Guangdong-based Ming Yang, China's fourth largest manufacturer, has no turbines installed in the US.

"This (US move) is a very interesting and notable one, with (Chinese) companies facing pressure to defend their market share in China," said Caitlin Pollock, senior Asian wind analyst at IHS Emerging Energy Research. It is almost a South Korean strategy, she said, whereby companies test turbines for several years rather than "steam-rolling ahead" with production as some Chinese companies do.

But she also said Ming Yang and most other Chinese manufacturers - apart from Goldwind - seem to have largely missed the current window of opportunity in the US, where installation has skyrocketed because the production tax credit may expire in December.

Asked about the uncertainty of US national energy policy, Quek said he expects significant support in the long-term to come at state level, including in North Carolina. North Carolina also has an especially good offshore wind resource, he said.

In February, Ming Yang announced deals to supply 125MW of wind turbines to Bulgaria. More details of Ming Yang's global strategy have emerged in the translated transcript of a December conference call between Ming Yang senior executives and financial analysts regarding its third quarter 2011 earnings, as reported on the New York Stock Exchange.

CEO Chuanwei Zhang said that his company had won orders of 150MW in South Africa, though in December the contracts had yet to be inked and is in talks with companies in Australia and India, though contracts have yet to be signed.

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