Industrial influence outweighs policy

Many a great idea fails to become a reality because others cannot see its worth.

If the pioneers who developed the technology to generate electricity from wind had failed to demonstrate the benefits, the wind industry would be very different - and probably much smaller. Even so, it wasn't until the 1980s, when governments in the US and Europe began influencing the agenda by giving financial incentives to encourage development of renewable energy, that the industry was born.

Wind's pioneers were driven by the need to generate energy that did not pump carbon into the atmosphere. But once the technology was developed to the extent that it was proven to work, the influence spread beyond its green niche into the industrial and commerical world.

Strong economic case

Judging the worth of one person's influence on the industry against another's, as we have done this month, is not a science. Inevitably, it is subjective, but to be credible it relies on clear guidelines and total independence of judgment. Every year we know we will ruffle some feathers with who we include or omit, but we believe that we have delivered a list of personalities who have the power and who are influencing this industry.

This year, even more than previous years, it is turbine manufacturer chiefs who head the list, with the usual suspects dancing around the top spots. Influence comes the way of Gamesa, GE and Vestas, not in any small part, through new corporate partnerships that ensure they are large figures in the offshore spotlight, beside Siemens.

But it is the absence of political influencers in the list that adds another dimension to why the manufacturers remain at the top of a list. With a major fallout in political and financial support for wind energy, it is down to the manufacturers to create products that can flourish without support. That is some responsibility.

Only China, Germany and Brazil have been able to retain a politician in this year's list. While China's government rules the world's largest wind sector, its current focus on addressing the quality of its products may lead its wind industry to develop more aggressively outside its own borders. Brazil, a still modest but rapidly growing market, is now dealing with the consequent problems of speedy growth - grid completion, and sometimes uncompetitive prices from its newly created local industry. Germany, Europe's market leader, also provides a politician as the country makes the painful transitioning from fossil fuel and nuclear generation to renewables.

But there is a significant lack of political might from the other major market, the US, and the offshore hub, the UK. We hear little now from Ernest Moniz, who started his job as US energy secretary in May 2013. Ed Davey, UK minister for energy, a champion of wind, has not had a good year, with the plug being pulled on major offshore projects this year.

Developers and utilities have muscled in where political influencers and financiers have fallen out this year. Their corporate might and influence is growing as the global GW increases.

Like the manufacturers, the utilities have some calculations to do if they are to lead the way - theirs being to find the optimum mix of energy supply to meet the needs of the energy future, according to the conditions in each market. That's another tall order. But nobody said that to be influential is easy.

Jacki Buist is editor of Windpower Monthly

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