Analysis: Brazil's manufacturers look to deal with local sourcing

BRAZIL: Brazil's largest blade manufacturer, Tecsis, has seen its portfolio change drastically throughout 2013. It supplies blades to turbine makers such as GE and Alstom and accounts for 90% blade production in the country.

In 2013 alone, Tecsis increased its workforce by 76% to 8,100 in its factories in São Paulo state and is investing BRL 200 million ($86million) in a new factory in the north-eastern state of Bahia to supply local wind farms there, said Pércio de Souza, Tecsis' chairman of the board, pointing out the new factory will increase output to around 2,300 sets of blades in 2015, from 1,800 sets at present.

The change reflects a dramatic shift in activity as Brazil's wind power industry starts to come under pressure to deliver the 2.4GW of tenders won this year alone. The problem is that the 2.4GW has to be delivered in two years — or face heavy fines from the the government.

GE has signed contracts to deliver 1GW of turbines over the next two years from the two auctions in August and November 2013. This means more than 550 turbines, since GE markets the 1.7MW 1.71-100 and the 1.85MW 1.8.5 models in Brazil. Again, GE declined to comment on how it would meet demand.

In the north-eastern state of Ceará, Vicente Alves, president of Union of Metalworkers, is on standby. "In mid-year, Vestas directors told us they would be hiring more people soon", he said, but no other contacts have been made. Vestas reportedly didn't win any contracts in the auctions this year.

According to Vicente, Vestas currently employs around 40 workers in Brazil, earning average salaries of BRL 2,500 ($1,074), or 70% more than other metalworkers. The company declined to comment on production expansion plans.

In fact, qualified labour is one the bottlenecks facing the windpower industry in Brazil, so much so that companies connected to Brazilian wind energy association Abeeolica have been in talks with the government to set up a nationwide training programme. One of the results is through the Senai industrial education service, an industrial apprenticeship system introduced in 1966 that is maintained through obligatory contribution by industry.

The 18 technical courses in wind power should start to be rolled out in the coming months, said Jorge Luiz Cardozo said, Senai's technical adviser, who participated in the working group created to discuss the issue. The wind industry needs very specialised workers, who need to learn languages to understand the imported technology, he pointed out

Tecsis' de Souza agrees that labour is one of the main bottlenecks in Brazil. The other is logistics. Most of the blades and other equipment is transported by road as marine transport is expensive, he said.

"It takes 12 days to take blades from São Paulo to Bahia in the north-east [a distance just under 2,000 kilometres]", he said. "Last year we developed a new truck to carry two blades at a time and are now trying to develop one that carries three, but we are facing a lot of red tape because of state boundaries".

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