Frustrated Spanish wind sector looks abroad to stay in business

SPAIN: Spanish firms are depending on international growth to survive as the domestic situation grows increasingly dire, according to delegates at the country's annual wind convention last month.

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Spanish firms are depending on international growth to survive as the domestic situation grows increasingly dire, according to delegates at the country's annual wind convention last month.

"We've reached a plateau," said a spokesman for AEE, the industry organisation running Spain's wind power convention. "We need to build up exports and improve our technology. Realistically, manufacturers and promoters are going to go to China, India and the US, where lots of new capacity is being developed."

This is exactly what Gamesa and other companies in the Spanish wind sector are doing. A quarter of the manufacturer's sales are now in India, where it has taken a 10% share of the wind turbine market.

China and the US account for another 20%, with the remainder mostly in Latin America and Eastern Europe. India, China, the US and Brazil have Gamesa manufacturing plants.

In May, the Bilbao-based company announced a deal to supply 2GW of generating capacity to the Indian firm Caparo while acknowledging, almost in the same breath, that its Spanish market had collapsed from 19% of total sales to zero between the first quarters of 2010 and 2011.

Spain's wind power boom saw capacity grow almost tenfold to 20.68GW in the decade to 2010. However, repeated regulatory and tariff revisions since 2009 have raised bureaucratic hurdles and unsettled investors in an already adverse economic climate, with the result that installation of new capacity has slowed to a trickle.

The sector is unanimous about the scale of the problem in the Spanish market as well as the solution. A stable regulatory environment so that investors can predict tariff levels beyond 2013 is essential for recovery, a Gamesa spokesman says.

"Spain needs to restore the confidence of international investors," according to a spokesman from Acciona, while an AEE spokesman said that Spain was going to be "very complicated, at least until 2013".

Gamesa has also taken the strategic and expensive decision to play a significant role in the offshore wind market, despite its lack of home-grown experience. It is currently developing two families of offshore turbines from scratch to participate in North Sea developments off the UK coast.

The UK will be the base of a planned worldwide expansion into offshore wind with a London HQ, a Glasgow technology centre and one or more manufacturing and maintenance sites elsewhere in the UK.

Energy firm Iberdrola has also made a strategic commitment to the UK offshore market, with major projects totalling up to 10GW. Company president Ignacio Galan met UK prime minister David Cameron in June to detail investment plans. The company wants to spearhead its European incursion into marine technologies from its offshore directorate in Scotland. In the US, Iberdrola's expansion plans will concentrate on California, where there is a new renewable energy target of 33% in place.

Few opportunities

Acciona Energia is another major player that, while recognising the disadvantage of lacking Spanish sites and projects, is looking to the international offshore market to make up for the lack of opportunities in the Spanish domestic market.

Announcing a decision to move into manufacturing and operating offshore wind turbines in partnership with Mitsubishi, group president Jose Manuel Entrecanales warned the Spanish government that the energy firm could pull out of the Spanish renewables market altogether: "I can't commit my investors' capital if the right conditions aren't met," he said.

It is not just players in the Spanish wind sector that are leaving Spain. Basque blade manufacturer Aeroblade was recently created with the specific intention of winning international business given the stagnation of the domestic market, according to spokesman Alfredo Beaumont.

Spain's wind power sector provides 40,000 jobs and this exodus will have an impact on the Spanish economy, which is already struggling with an unemployment crisis.

Job losses and the realisation that Germany and Italy are pointing the way to ever-greater EU dependence on wind power may convince the Spanish government that restoring regulatory stability and growth to the domestic wind power market is a priority.

"We are losing our international leadership. Only an ambitious renewables target and a safe and predictable long-term regulatory framework will prevent collapse," said a spokesman from Acciona.

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