Fight or flight for Spain

SPAIN: Spain's ailing wind industry is facing the survival options of uprooting from Spanish soil or exporting from the Spanish base, says Alberto Cena, technical director at national wind association AEE.

Go west: Ingeteam’s new facility in Milwaukee is in line with the growing trend for Spanish firm to expand abroad
Go west: Ingeteam’s new facility in Milwaukee is in line with the growing trend for Spanish firm to expand abroad

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The once-thriving industry has been forced on to the defensive by a three-year slowdown in the wind market, and AEE is lobbying for an early lift of the government's indefinite moratorium on new wind projects, in force from 1 January. The party's over, says Eduard Sala de Vedruna, senior analyst at energy consultants IHS Emerging Energy Research (IHS EER). Even if the suspension is lifted as early as 2014, he says, severe cuts to price-support mechanisms will prevent any return to the 2GW annual rates of just a few years ago.

The last wind permits issued by Spain formed part of a 7GW allocation for the 2009-2012 period. With the vacuum ahead, factory closures have been rife and AEE calculates more than 14,000 job losses across the sector since 2009. IHS EER foresees new average annual installed capacity crawling back up to 850MW by 2016-2025, at best - far adrift of Spain's promise to Brussels to reach 35.7GW by 2020, from just under 22GW today.

Uprooting and exporting

Recent business plans from Spain's top two wind players, Gamesa and Iberdrola, are telling. Utility Iberdrola plans to install 1.4GW of new capacity over the two years to 2014 - but all outside Spain, with a strong focus on offshore in the UK, where it has its global offshore base.

Turbine manufacturer and developer Gamesa plans to slash 20% of its workforce - 1,800 jobs globally, a third of them in Spain. The company is consolidating its remaining two Spanish nacelle plants and extensive component and services facilities into a western hub, balancing its eastern hub in China, with local production continuing in India, Brazil and the US. Spanish factories will produce for Europe, North Africa and even for the American continent, including Mexico. In fact, Gamesa's Spanish side is now competing with its substantial US facilities for turbine orders.

Gamesa's main rival in Spain, Denmark's Vestas, is also dedicating its dramatically downsized local capacity to neighbouring markets. Domestic competitor, Acciona Windpower, which also has nacelle facilities in the US and Brazil, is doing the same.

"The internationalisation of the Spanish wind sector has been under way for well over five years" says Peter Sweatman of consultancy Climate Strategy. "Companies are merely shifting more business outside than before."

Eastern Europe was a close first step for international expansion and traditional Spanish links meant an early advantage in the fast-growing Latin American market, says Sweatman. While big global devopers such as Acciona, Iberdrola and Gamesa are also in China and the US, smaller Spanish outfits such as Eolia, Preneal, Gestamp, Renovalia and Fersa y Elecnor have developed the lion's share of the Latin American market.

At its inception more than 15 year ago, large-scale Spanish wind development was tied in with creating local industry and services, with a focus on research and development (R&D), says Sweatman. The resulting knowledge base and auxiliary service firms are competing on the global stage. Gamesa's maintenance arm, Global Energy Services, was acquired by UK venture capital firm 3i, while wind-resource engineering firm Barlovento has new offices across Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico and Romania. Engineering firm Ingeteam has opened a generator and converter facility in the US state of Wisconsin. "The list is long and varied," says Cena.

Core technology stays

Latin America may later demand local factories, but Sweatman expects the sophisticated lightweight-component technology, together with patents, designs and software to remain in Spain. That is, indeed, Gamesa's stated aim. And even Alstom, a French engineering giant with extensive domestic research facilities, is developing the technology behind its 6MW offshore machine in Barcelona, home of the Spanish turbine maker Ecotecnia, which it acquired in 2006.

According to Cena, the main threat to Spain salvaging its domestic industry is China's improving technology. Coupled with the Chinese state's willingness to finance developers using that technology, AEE fears the remnants of Spain's wind market could opt for Chinese imports.

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