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AWEA Windpower 2013 - liveblog day 3

Day three 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.

1430 Central US time

As conference attendees readied for their journey back to home base,  a quick survey suggests that although foot traffic was lighter in the exhibition hall compared with last year, the quality was serious.  A representative of Aztec Bolting Services of Texas said of the event, "It’s a little smaller, but the leads have been a little better." Why? "The people here have been more truly involved in wind," she speculated. "They’re more serious with regard to business." It no doubt helped that Aztec had a custom-painted classic Royal Enfield motorbike on their stand.

However, Chicago-based S&C Electric, which took a tour of delegates round its local factory the previous day, reported a good level of traffic at its stand, and was very happy with the networking opportunities.

Jim Tolan with SgurrEnergy Inc, based in Glasgow in Scotland, says that because the company is newer to the US market , the value of conference and exhibition is for reinforcing relationships. The renewable-energy consultancy did, however, conduct some solid business and closed two or three deals yesterday. As for the mood of the conference, Tolan said he senses that the US industry is in a holding pattern. "There’s no long-term certainty, and natural gas prices are low and there’s a lack of PPAs (power purchase agreements)," he said.  "But, the winners will make it to Vegas, baby!"

That's it for another year.

Windpower 2014 is from May 5-8 in Las Vegas.

1400hrs US Central time

The conference is "déjà vu all over again", said Ken Cohn of Second Wind Inc, who has been attending US wind conferences for 30 years. "We’re dealing with the reality (again) of trying to survive with uncertainty," he said, referring to the expiration of eligibility for the PTC in December. But he said it has been especially welcome to hear AWEA’s new leadership speak about unity. The trade group has had well-publicised divisions with two utility members over its laser-beam focus on the PTC last year. Incoming CEO Tom Kiernan will take the helm in late May.

Key findings from Black & Veatch’s seventh annual US electric utility industry report include some good news for wind power. Carbon regulation is at the forefront of concerns for utility leaders, with more than 70% of respondents expecting action -- either state or federal -- within the next eight years. And only 3.4% of respondents said that meeting renewable portfolio standards is not achievable due to technical considerations.

1300hrs US Central time

A combination of ongoing technical improvements on a variety of fronts will drive continued reductions in the cost of wind energy, manufacturers say. "I don’t know if there is a magic bullet," said Siemens vice-president Michael Revak. "I think the key is innovation across the board." Part of that innovation should come in how suppliers get equipment to project sites, said Gamesa's North American CEO Borja Negro. "There is a lot of room for improvement in logistics, which implies re-engineering some components." Utilising the thousands of points of data collected from operating turbines and grids to optimise operations also has potential, said GE's Keith Longtin. "One of the areas we can really work on is analytical," he told a manufacturing forum.

1230hrs US Central time

Gamesa will not invest in more US manufacturing until the country has a stable wind policy framework, says North American CEO Borja Negro. The company was forced to lay off workers at US plants last year in the face of policy uncertainty. "Frankly I don’t want to have to do that again," he said.

1200hrs Central US time

Vestas is already manufacturing towers at its Pueblo, Colorado plant for rival turbine makers that are "household names". And the Danish company may start to make other components in the US for the competition, Chris Brown, president of Vestas Americas, reveals. "We want to be as efficient as possible. We want to fill those factories up," he said in an interview. Pueblo will be at full capacity before this cycle of the production tax credit (PTC) is over, he says. "We [at Vestas] have to learn to run faster and to be more competitive," he says. The company is also still considering divesting itself of more manufacturing plants.

He declined to say if any of Vestas' remaining 1000 in planned job cuts will be in North America. What skills is he now employing in his new Vestas role that he learned working for 22 months at the City of Detroit, a city in crisis? Managerial, he says.

For Brown, the conference has been a busy one -- three days of back-to back meetings before he flies out of Chicago for more meetings with customers. It’s a question of the wind industry "galloping to catch up" after teetering on the edge of the cliff last year, not knowing whether the federal PTC would be extended, he says. What would he want for US wind energy’s policy future? The level of rational debate has to improve nationally, he says. "It’s a tricky and difficult task to get a coherent energy policy," he said.  

1115hrs Central US time

Major turbine suppliers to the US market expect installations to drop to 2-3MW this year, with only GE's wind product line manager Keith Longtin suggesting it could go higher. Installations will rebound to the 6-8MW range in 2014, delegates attending a manufacturer forum heard.

Time is tight. Developers want to make sure they have the equipment they need to qualify for the production tax credit under the new "start of construction" rules -- but they have a "finite window" in which to line up their turbine supply before manufacturers' order books are filled, said Goldwind CEO Tim Rosenzweig. Michael Revak of Siemens agreed. "The timeline is relatively short. The third quarter of this year is going to be a very busy time."

1000hrs Central US time

The US offshore market will start with a slow burn, but after that could take off quickly – with the right political leadership and collaboration, said Andy Geissbuehler, vice president and general manager of Alstom Power Inc in a session on creating an offshore off-take market. He noted that France’s 1.4GW offshore tender is triggering the company to build four plants and create thousands of jobs.

The need for a broader approach to market creation was stressed by the panelists. Commissioner Jeanne Fox, of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, noted that even her state cannot establish a market-place on its own. A regional effort is needed, she said. New Jersey has perhaps the most favourable state policy in America for offshore wind development.

Even so, Abigail Ross Hopper, energy advisor to Maryland’s Governor Martin O'Malley and acting director for the state’s energy administration, suggested that America’s next generation will find it completely normal to go to the beach and see offshore wind farms – just as  today, it is standard to see transmission lines onshore.

0915hrs Central US time

Later today, from 11 a.m. to noon, a selection of exhibitors at Windpower 2013 will host their executive-level leaders in their booths for an hour so they can meet attendees and answer questions.  The leaders will include AWEA’s incoming CEO Tom Kiernan; Ralf Sigrist, President and CEO of Nordex; Mark Albenze, CEO of wind power Americas for Siemens; David Flitterman, North America chairman at Gamesa; Mike Garland, CEO of the developer Pattern; and Jose Zayas, wind programme director at the US Department of Energy.

0830hrs Central US time

At the conference, exciting news has emerged-- the US Department of Energy (DOE) is revisiting its 2008 report, "20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to US Electricity Supply". The ground-breaking ‘20% by 2030’ report explored a scenario for reaching the 20% goal and contrasted it with another scenario in which no new US wind power capacity is installed.

The new report will be more comprehensive. It will look at 2030, 2040 and 2050 scenarios, and also at the goal of reducing the US’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. The DOE will engage American wind industry stakeholders in the research. And not only will the upcoming report present a new vision for the country, it will also provide a roadmap for how we get there, says Peter Kelley, vice president for public affairs for the American Wind Energy Association.

0100hrs Central US time

On the third and final day of Windpower 2013, 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. Yesterday, industry leaders had 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 have attended the conference; there are 600 exhibitors; and the exhibit hall space could have stretched to 11 American football fields—or 1210 yards.

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