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AWEA Windpower 2013 - liveblog day 2

UNITED STATES: Day two of Windpower Monthly's blog from the AWEA Windpower 2013 conference in Chicago, covering events as they happen. If you are at the event, visit Windpower Monthly at stand 1211.

Tom Kiernan, incoming CEO of AWEA, on stage in Chicago
Tom Kiernan, incoming CEO of AWEA, on stage in Chicago

1730 US Central time

On the second day of the three-day Windpower 2013, industry leaders talked about future markets for US wind power while in the exhibit hall, companies said the foot traffic was high quality. Or as one long-time wind executive, who preferred to remain anonymous, said, "We’re here to do business. There’s no time to d*** around. It’s too competitive."

According to an early estimate from the American Wind Energy Association, about 10,000 people attended the conference; there were 600 exhibitors; and the exhibit hall space could have stretched to 11 American football fields—or 1210 yards. Tomorrow, the proceedings will be dominated by a large turbine manufacturer forum and a session on the US offshore wind market and creating an off-take market.

1615 US Central time

The increase of renewables on the grid will force more and more wind farms to upgrade their connections, says David Chiesa of S&C Electric, has won the $2.6 million contract to do just that for a 585MW wind farm in Texas. State grid operator ERCOT has introduced new connection standards, and S&C will upgrade the balance of plant at Sweetwater Wind to meet the new requirements, smoothing power delivery to protect the grid. It will also help the wind farm to maximise delivery of power, he said. S&C is a Chicago-based company.

Meanwhile with wind farms looking more to battery storage to improve the flow of elect to the grid, insurance firm GCube is calling for more research on energy-storage devices, for standards to be set, and for more regular battery checks to be done to avoid fires.

1530 US Central time

The availability of renewable energy is a key factor for Google when decides to locate its multi-billion data centres, says Gary Demasi, the company's director of operations. "It's actually a necessary component," he told a session on utility issues.

Google supplies about a third of its energy needs from renewables, with 20% supplied by renewables already on the grid and 13% by power purchase agreements with wind companies.

Although Google is making direct wind purchases, says Demasi, it would prefer to go through utilities, which are better positioned to manage things like variability.  The company is working with Duke Energy to establish a renewable energy tariff that it hopes will ease it and other large industrial customers buying wind.

1515 US Central time

A major theme emerging in the conference is how to extend the longevity of wind turbines. And indeed Gamesa is offering a new package for extending the life of the Vestas V47 turbine – the twin to its G47—to as much as 30 years. "We’ve just started promoting it," says David Rosenberg, vice president for government affairs and corporate communications in the US.

1500 Central US time

Gamesa, the sixth largest wind turbine manufacturer, is out in force at Windpower 2013 after its first-ever full-year profit loss in 2012 and a return to profit in Q1. Global executive chairman Ignacio Martín, in an interview, acknowledged that it had been a "company in difficulty". Gamesa is now more streamlined, and fixed costs have been reduced, he says. For example, products that once took four years to develop might now take 18 months.

The return to profit in Q1 proves that "we are back!" he said. Will there be more layoffs? "That will depend on the market," he said. "I cannot say no, but most of the restructuring has been done."

Gamesa expects to sell 1800-2000 MW of turbines worldwide this year, of which more than half will be in Latin America. In 2012, it sold 2000 MW globally of which perhaps some 30-35% was for Latin America.  With the soft markets in the US and China, assembly facilities in those two countries will be used for supplying markets elsewhere, he says.

The company’s 5MW offshore prototype will be installed off Gran Canaria by year-end. As recently as January, it was to have been commissioned by mid-year. Meanwhile, Gamesa’s plans to invest in a blade manufacturing plant and offshore logistics operations in Scotland are still a possibility. "It looks promising," he said of the outlook for favourable UK policy.

1400 Central US time

GE, which unveiled its new 1.7-100 turbine during the first day of the conference, is continuing its technology push. The company’s Keith Longtin, wind-technology leader at GE Global Research, in an interview said the new turbine is atop a prototype of the company's innovative space-frame tower being erected right now in the Tehachapi Pass in California.  

Installation of the lighter-weight lattice tower, covered with an architectural fabric, will be completed by June. A commercial version should be out in 2014. The 1.7-100 turbine is mostly being marketed in the US, he says. An optimised version of the 1.6-100, it increases output primarily through the use of controls to manage loads.

Interestingly, Longtin notes that GE’s 2.5-120 low wind speed turbine, launched in February, is attracting a "huge" amount of interest from customers in Europe, including in Germany. That’s a market the company has had a hard time cracking.

These two new so-called ‘brilliant’ GE models incorporate a small amount of battery storage at each turbine. With an advanced forecasting algorithm, power output can be predicted for 15 to 60 minutes ahead, says GE. Will such storage be utilised on all future GE turbines? "We’ll see," says Longtin. "I can't predict the future." But could it be in the offing for all new wind turbines at GE? "Could be," he said with a smile.

1300hrs Central US time

Siemens has signed its first 15-year maintenance contract in the US. Under the new deal, care of the 226MW RES Americas-owned Texas projects will extend beyond the five-year warranty period to include a further 15 years. Long-term contracts have been seen in Europe for some time, said Tim Holt, CEO of the renewables service division of Siemens, in an interview. He says he would like to see more sign-up for longer deals, especially by the larger companies, to ensure what he describes as an organised, efficient service strategy over 20 years, including tweaks and upgrades that can help bring a project back to expected profitability.

1245hrs Central US time

There are close to 4.4GW of planned coal retirements in nine western states between now and 2019, says Sarah Propst, executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance. But the challenge is figuring out how to ensure as much as possible is replaced with wind power. "That is the biggest question," she told a state policy session.  Industry advocates have to work to ensure utilities and regulators don't just default to natural gas. 

1200hrs Central US time

In the exhibit today, people looked as if they were getting down to business and discussing deals. Likewise in the Hyatt hotel next to the conference centre, the meeting rooms were busy. Yesterday was a more typical conference first day – a little more measured. 

1000hrs Central US time

A panel of corporate purchasers of wind featured representatives of Google, Motorola, Wal-Mart, Bloomberg, BD and WindMade. The companies are all demonstrably interested in wind, of course, from Google’s investment in the Atlantic Wind Connection -- and its wind power purchases for data centres -- to Bloomberg’s buying of renewable energy, 58% of which is wind.

"Wal-Mart is open for business - wind business," said Greg Pool of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest chain store, about his company’s future need. He explained that the company wants to operate on 100% renewable energy by 2020, whether the clean energy is procured or generated by Wal-Mart.

0900hrs Central US time 

At the wind industry leaders panel, AWEA’s incoming chairman Gabriel Alonso posed crucial questions on topics such as the US’s low price of natural gas.

The participants agreed that natural gas prices will be volatile –and that they will rise again, perhaps approximately doubling to $7 or $8 million British thermal units. Tim Rosenzweig, CEO of Goldwind USA, commented on wind’s competitiveness versus natural gas: "We’re selling a 20- to 25-year product. It’s about long-term stability…. How long can you really hedge that gas?"

Kevin Walsh, of GE Energy Financial Services, however cautioned the audience not to forget that natural gas production will see innovations as will wind power.

0100hrs Central US time

After the first day, which started with much-needed rousing speeches from two new AWEA leaders, attendees seemed cheerful and focused despite crowds seeming rather thin on the ground. Comments continue unabated on the US main wind subsidy, recently extended and clarified, and there have been some new turbine model launches to the US market. Today starts with the wind industry leaders panel and a discussion among some major US businesses - including Google, Walmart and Motorola - about the growing trend towards corporate purchases of wind.

AWEA Liveblog Day 1

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