Leadership critical to solve industry woes

WORLDWIDE: The wind industry is on tenterhooks as the US presidential election draws near, with the fate of the production tax credit (PTC) hanging in the balance. If the PTC is not extended beyond the year-end, the global impact will be felt even more keenly.

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US new build is expected to only reach 1-2GW next year compared with around 11GW this year. The overseas firms that supply one third of the US market will have to find opportunities elsewhere. Meanwhile, US wind companies seeking to survive will add to the competition in growth markets such as Brazil, which is also attracting players from struggling markets in Europe.

Even if the incumbent Barack Obama wins another term, he will still have a fight on his hands to get a PTC extension through political obstacles. Control of the House of Representatives is likely to remain in the hands of Republicans, who can block any efforts to extend the policy. Congress has been handicapped by severe political partisanship, where very little actually manages to be signed into law, and that is expected to continue.

This will require strong leadership. Obama will have to drown out the voices of lobbyists and bloggers whose ever-louder accusations and misinformation about wind energy threaten to gag the industry. This will not be easy - wind's enemies are powerful and often funded by fossil-fuel interests. The industry even faces dissent within its own ranks as the American Wind Energy Association's dramatic expulsion of major US utility Exelon over its anti-PTC stance shows. Will other energy companies that have sought to capitalise on the wind-energy boom turn their backs on the technology as times get tough?

The wind industry, in turn, will need its own leaders to fight its corner. Windpower Monthly's annual survey this year ranked Vestas CEO Ditlev Engel as the number-one influencer. Despite the significant financial struggles of his company in the past year, Engel has shown his leadership qualities in directly putting pressure on the US administration to extend the PTC or risk job losses from his company equivalent to more than 5% of the 30,000 wind manufacturing jobs in the US. This is not an empty threat - September has been another bruising month for US employment figures, with Siemens losing 615 staff - more than a third of its US workforce.

Product advancement

Unsurprisingly, our list of top 30 influencers in the market features a number of those involved in product development - designers as well as manufacturers - who can push for technical advances to help reduce the cost of energy, a big influencer in the industry.

But there is still variety in the list. Number three for two years running, Xie Changjun, president of Chinese developer Longyuan, this year has led the company to overtake Iberdrola as the world's top wind developer. No mean feat, as Iberdrola has been top developer since 2006.

Several new entrants to our list work in offshore wind, showing the increasing influence of this rapidly maturing sector. Many of these people are involved in devising ways to finance projects - the sector's biggest challenge as it seeks to develop projects that are bigger and further out to sea.

It will be interesting to see what impact the tumultuous year ahead will have on the top rankings in next year's survey.

Catherine Early is an associate editor of Windpower Monthly

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