Political indecision is one safe prediction

This time last year, I wondered whether 2014 would lift the industry out of the doldrums that 2013 inflicted upon it. On the surface, it would appear that it has. Installations are up, the job cuts and factory closures have stopped, Europe is holding firm and the emerging markets are ticking along nicely.

However, there have been some worrying headlines. The Obama administration's extension of the US production tax credit (PTC) late last year will only benefit a limited number of projects that were already underway (page 9). In China, an expected cut in subsidies that will come into force this year seems to have created a mini boom similar to that caused by the expiry of the PTC in 2012. Projects are being rushed out, which can lead to using inferior turbines and components.

In 2014 Germany was hit by protests over its renewable-energy framework, while South Africa has been bogged down with grid issues. Local sourcing remains a problem in many emerging markets that do not have the requirement to sustain them — are you listening, Russia?

What they all have in common is that they are the result of political decision making, or lack of, and one safe prediction for 2015 is that this will continue. Who remembers Obama's 2011 State of the Union address when he said the US should seek to lead the renewables industry in the same way it won the race to the moon?

One positive that comes out of these issues is that the wind industry has almost evolved into a position where it can ride out any uncertainties arising from changes in support mechanisms or, as in Germany, fight them head-on.

But without doubt the story of 2014 was GE and Siemens' battle to takeover Alstom energy. Although only a small part of the deal, wind found itself centre stage due to concerns over the US company's antipathy towards offshore. One of 2015's stories will be how Alstom's global wind business is consolidated into GE.

Product awards

This is also the time for Windpower Monthly's review of last year's products. Nordex, Gamesa and MHI Vestas have done well. Ming Yang's Aerodyn-designed 6.5MW turbine's place among the top-three offshore models will likely draw mixed responses considering the two-bladed downwind design is still at an early prototype stage. It lost out in the end to the further progressed MHI Vestas, but Aerodyn two-bladed downwind designs still came through a winner, with the 8MW floating version being voted Innovation of the year.

Looking back through the archive to 2010, 2015 was supposed to be the year when we were to see a 10MW turbine. This looks less likely now than it did back then. Slowing wind development was something outgoing Siemens CTO Henrik Stiesdal pointed to last year, saying that for the last ten years logistics and costs have taken centre stage. Indeed, many of this year's winners and shortlisted products, like the V164 and the Siemens 6MW, featured last year too. Even the Nordex Delta turbine is an evolution of the N117.

Although Stiesdal believes there will be a 10MW turbine, its development will be based around conventional technology.

There are at least a few new machines planned, such as Enercon's 4MW platform (page 37) and the Areva-Gamesa 8MW machine. Political uncertainty is one thing, but it would be sad if 2015 is marked by a lack of innovation.

James Quilter is associate editor of Windpower Monthly

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