Windicator shifts the arrow to the right again. Operating profits have risen dramatically, as have many company shares. But the arrow has only moved slightly. Wind developers were less active in Q3, on year. North America is moribund and Latin America only just eked out a rise in activity pushing projects closer to completion.
European project development slowed uniformly, and North America appeared even more lugubrious. But emerging markets, led by Latin America, eked out a slight rise in activity. And the Asia Pacific region did what it always does: steam ahead — yet not by enough to prevent an overall dip in global growth.
Indeed, although third-quarter Asian figures recorded by Windpower Intelligence (WPI), Windpower Monthly's market-research unit, seem strong at first glance, a closer look reveals some weakness in project development. Asian earlyto mid-stage activity — project announcements, permitting starts, power purchase agreements and turbine purchase agreements — fell in July-September. Rises in permitting completions and several categories of late-stage project development offset the purchase dips. In general, all Asian project-development activity in July-September grew 27% compared with the same period in 2012, even though the quarter ended on a sour note when activity dropped 10% on-year in September.
In Europe, the situation was far worse. September activity dropped across nearly every category of project development. Declines were particularly severe in early-stage development. Europe's only growth in September activity was a 20% on-year rise in turbine purchase agreements, to six in total.
Led by China, the Asia Pacific region's strongest performance was in late-stage activity. Wrapping up two years of construction, Chinese developer Guodian powered up its 250MW Taiyueshan I wind farm in September. The wind farm, located at Huapo Natural Reserve in northern China's Shanxi province, is the first phase of a planned 750MW wind complex. It is also one of nearly 500 wind projects the Chinese National Energy Bureau announced back in March, the third batch of approved wind in the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015).
Such progress has enabled China to pull well ahead of one-time neck-and-neck rival United States: China now has 69.9GW of installed capacity, or 10% more than the 63.7GW in the US. In fact, during July-September, only two projects went online in North America, and neither was in the US. In September, NextEra Energy put online its 124.4MW Summerhaven Wind Energy Centre project in Ontario, and EDF EN Canada powered up the 150MW second phase of the Lac Alfred project in Quebec.
Although early-stage project activity rose on-year across North America in the third quarter, other than these two events, capacity additions were completely moribund.
Latin America started 2013 with great promise: Q1 project activity grew nearly 50% on year. The region is still doing well, having boosted installed capacity by about 20%, year to date, when we compiled data in late November. But by Q3, the pace of project development had slowed.
In the competitive business of selling wind turbines, Vestas topped the charts in the third quarter with the most megawatts of contracted capacity. Its 1.4GW of contracts were well ahead of Siemens' 1GW and GE's 352MW.
The majority of Vestas' sales were in Europe, where the UK was the top market, but Romania, German and Poland also presented opportunities. In the US, Vestas' 400MW beat the 273MW by the usual domestic leader, GE, and the 267MW by Siemens. Besides these three manufacturers, only Nordex and Gamesa had sizeable US deals in the third quarter. And Vestas was at its multinational best, securing orders for 198MW in South Africa and 100MW in tough-to-penetrate China.