A new year, a new chance to shine

So 2013 is over and done with, goodbye to all that. It was predicted to be an "annus horriblis" for the wind industry, and we are now left wondering if it was worse than expected, and whether it has bottomed out.

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In January 2013, the key topic was the US production tax credit (PTC) and how well the US industry would weather the storm following its late renewal. A year later, and one could be forgiven for feeling like they have walked into a wind industry version of Groundhog Day, as questions surrounding the extension of the incentive again feature prominently in the news.

Last year's US market performance illustrates how switching on and off of incentives affects stability. Twelve months ago, it was predicted that US installations would stay below 4GW, with some estimates as low as 2.7GW. Our figures show it may be far worse than that, with only 188MW of newly installed wind capacity connected to the US grid by end November in 2013.

On a positive note, the swingeing job cuts in the run-up to the last expiry of the PTC are being reversed, with around 1GW of orders having been made. Vestas and blade maker LM are among those building back up their workforce - albeit some being hired on temporary contracts at Vestas.

Chicken and egg

Elsewhere, government policy is continuing to make life difficult. In China, curtailments have caused ongoing problems, while the targets for the world's biggest offshore markets in the UK and Germany appear to be under pressure.

In Spain, the rules are being rewritten as feed-in-tariff deals are being disregarded.

Cost of energy, as ever, stays central to this, revealing a "chicken-and-egg" situation and more notions of Groundhog Day. Back in 2012 at the EWEA conference in Copenhagen, Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, before finding wider "selfie"-related fame at Nelson Mandela's memorial event, stood up and challenged the industry to provide the technical innovations that would reduce the cost of energy.

Shortly after this, then Siemens Wind Power CEO Felix Ferlemann took the stage and made the very reasonable assertion that research and development cost money and that the industry needs policy support and certainty before it can make this investment. These arguments continue to be played out.

One possible outcome of this is a lack of growth in terms of technical innovation. The bulk of 2013 turbine launches have taken the form of refinements to existing platforms rather than new products. In 2004, Repower broke the mould and launched the first 5MW offshore turbine. In 2013, it introduced a larger rotor for its 6MW turbine, while stating it will not introduce another offshore turbine before the end of the decade. This is one example of the industry potentially "plateauing" in turbine development.

But there are reasons to be cheerful. Vestas will soon install the world's biggest turbine in Denmark, the V164, and China's industry is developing a series of 6MW-plus offshore machines. Emerging markets such as Brazil, South Africa and Turkey continue to grow.

Sooner or later a point will be reached when government expectations over cost, carbon reduction targets and the industry's ability to offer a solution will clash. Somehow, a resolution may be reached. Maybe 2014 will be that time.

James Quilter is associate editor of Windpower Monthly

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