Global dream behind Goldwind US move

US: Chinese turbine giant Goldwind will begin manufacturing nacelles and hubs in the US next year as it strives to achieve a third of sales in overseas markets and expand sales of direct-drive turbines.

The company's US arm has opened an office in Chicago to oversee operations in sales, service and manufacturing. Target markets include both North and South America.

The parent company's chairman and CEO, Wu Gang, says the overseas push is about more than unit sales. "Goldwind will cultivate itself into a leading wind turbine supplier in the world through internationalising its capital, talents, market, technologies and products,"

he says. That will involve building factories and cultivating supply chains in its target markets, as well as developing local research and development facilities, he adds. The China Development Bank offered Goldwind a $6 billion credit line in May to fund expansion.

Goldwind USA is now considering factory sites in several US states, says Tim Rosenzweig, who was appointed CEO of the US unit in May. He formerly served as vice-president and chief financial officer for US wind developer First Wind. "If you site your manufacturing in the wrong place, you could lose a lot of value," he says. "It's going to be a decision about where we can find the appropriate logistics (and) good people and work with local government to help us train people."

Goldwind had ample opportunity to explore its options at the American Wind Energy Association's Windpower 2010 conference in Dallas, Texas, in May. It presented itself at the event as an integrated firm with know-how in manufacturing, research and development, investment, wind farm management, and operations and maintenance.

Direct drive

The company also showcased its independently developed direct-drive permanent magnetic technology. Rosenzweig says that in the US, Goldwind intends to focus on selling its 1.5MW direct-drive machine for now. In China, it has a 2.5MW version in prototype. Plans are to begin sales in China this year and in the US next year. It foresees a prototype 6MW offshore turbine in 2012. Wu says he believes direct-drive technology will become a mainstay of the global wind sector.

In a conventional wind turbine, a gearbox steps up the speed of the rotor to that of the high-speed generator's input shaft. But gearboxes are prone to breakdown. In a direct-drive wind turbine, rather than using a gearbox, the rotor is connected directly to a slow-speed generator. Last year, direct drive machines by Goldwind and Germany's Enercon accounted for nearly 14% of global wind turbine supply, a 2% rise on 2008, according to wind consultancy BTM Consult. Germany's Siemens is also showing interest.

Over the past two years, Goldwind has supplied about 2,000 1.5MW turbines. Nearly all went to China. But three of the units came online at the Uilk Wind Farm in Pipestone, Minnesota, at the end of last year, becoming the first Chinese wind turbines to supply electricity to the US grid. Goldwind set up a joint venture with US and Canadian companies to jointly develop the power plant.

Analysts expect Goldwind to produce more than 3,000 of its 1.5MW turbines worldwide in 2010. In addition to its factories in Beijing, Xinjiang province, Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Shaanxi'a, the company also has a production base in Neunkirchen, Germany. The company is expected to shift production to 2.5MW wind turbines.

However, at the beginning of June, Goldwind halted plans to raise $1.2 billion on the Hong Kong stock exchange as a result of deterioration in market conditions. Goldwind had planned to release the equivalent of a 15% stake in the company. The majority of these funds were earmarked for new manufacturing plants and overseas expansion.

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