Fresh air blows in with new leaders

Last month's annual American Wind Energy Association event started with a flourish, introducing two new leaders.

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Gabriel Alonso, CEO of EDP Renewables North America and new chair of the board of AWEA, opened with a rousing speech outlining his plan to strengthen the organisation. He wants a clear long-term goal, industry unity, proactive communications, and to mobilise the mass of wind energy supporters who are not being heard.

Tom Kiernan, the new AWEA CEO, a brand new face in the industry, spoke of his aim to set this "industry in flux" on a steady path to stable growth. He knows that strong advocacy efforts are needed, and that the industry must work to counter the well-organised anti-wind adversaries.

His introduction, while passionate, did not carry the unbridled optimism of former CEO Denise Bode's first conference, in the same venue four years ago. Surrounded by a larger exhibition, but similarly dogged by supply-chain problems from an industry in perpetual rise and fall, Bode too was aiming for stability, through a federal mandate for more wind energy in the supply mix. Such stability remained out of reach during her tenure.

We wait to see if Kiernan's more measured approach will help him to realise a steadier path.

In Brussels, Thomas Becker has already started his new job as CEO of the European Wind Energy Association. Becker's immediate plan is to show policymakers the economic realities of building up the wind industry, how creating home-grown energy resources can bolster manufacturing and jobs while providing a lasting, secure source of power. He too plans to counter the adversaries, through the simple message that wind does not need subsidies. On a level playing field, wind is economically viable.

His predecessor, Christian Kjaer, took charge at EWEA in 2006, as oil prices continued to climb. This gave him a perfect platform from which to shout that wind energy is an energy option with stable costs. Becker has to get the same message across, but against a more difficult background of an economic rather than an energy crisis.

A shake-up at the top can work wonders for an individual, organisation or industry. Both new CEOs of the wind energy associations have the benefit of viewing the industry from outside, and seeing the bigger picture, while still being able to harness the knowledge of those steeped in the sector. The industry in flux will be hoping to see that shake-up have some effect.

Work with what is there

The efforts of the industry so far have resulted in more than 270GW of wind power turning globally. Keeping that fleet well serviced has become a business in its own right. Vestas expects to earn one fifth of its revenue this year from operations and maintenance.

From the major turbine makers introducing new servicing divisions to the third-party suppliers developing ever-more sophisticated methods to monitor and improve output, this renewed focus can help operators to squeeze every drop of performance from their projects. A well planned strategy can improve output, both raising profit and reducing the cost of wind energy.

All of which will help the new leaders tell the story that wind power is not just for the good guys who are doing the right thing for the climate. It is also an industry that can stand its ground against other energies, and bring economic benefit.

Jacki Buist is editor of Windpower Monthly

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