Chinese players ramp up production

Chinese wind turbine manufacturers launched a stern defence of their products throughout the three days of the Wind Power Shanghai 2007 conference and exhibition last month, countering accusations from both at home and abroad that the quality of their manufacturing left much to be desired. This story is linked to the main Shanghai conference article A Market of Bubbles and Bottlenecks.

China's leading wind turbine manufacturers say they are well aware that quality is the key to success. They are looking to break into the global market within the next five years

Chinese wind turbine manufacturers launched a stern defence of their products throughout the three days of the Wind Power Shanghai 2007 conference and exhibition last month, countering accusations from both at home and abroad that the quality of their manufacturing left much to be desired (previous story). "We are delighted to provide a lot of quality products to the market," Han Junliang of Sinovel Wind Co Ltd told delegates. "Quality comes first," stressed Goldwind's Wu Gang. "Without quality how can we sell our turbines?"

While both Sinovel and Goldwind are working on developing 3 MW and even 5 MW turbines to add to their smaller capacity product range up to 1.5 MW, others are more cautious about upscaling. "Our focus is not on making larger turbines but on quality," said Zhang Ziguo of Huiteng Windpower Equipment. The company produces a 750 kW machine without a gearbox, though Zhang says it is "mainly for Europe." A component supply chain is being secured to enable the firm to turn out 1000 turbines annually from next year, he said.

Fan Xiaohong of Shanghai Electric's wind company Sewind also took part in the united defence. "As a large corporation we emphasis quality," she said. Mistakes had been made in the past, she acknowledged. Li Junfeng of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association pointed out that Sewind was one of the first Chinese companies to start wind turbine manufacture, but has so far failed to make an impact. "Sewind should be the GE of China, so what went wrong?" he asked her. "We thought it was a small product for us and did not invest in it sufficiently," she conceded. "The failure is our responsibility but we have survived that." The company was one of two to display wind turbine nacelles on the exhibition floor.

German link

Shanghai Electric is one of the top three suppliers to China's coal industry, but wants to invest in and develop clean energy. The Sewind turbine manufacturing venture is a partnership with China Huadian Engineering Company. Shanghai Electric has the controlling stake. "As a large company we have a responsibility, but it's not enough to have capital resources. We need advanced technology as well," said Fan, who is deputy general manager of Shanghai Electric Group Power Factory as well as boss of Sewind. "We have to advance the education of our own research and development team and establish a viable supply chain," she added.

"The gap between us and the international players is wide," continued Fan. "We plan to spend three years to achieve the ability of developing and manufacturing wind turbines independently."

At present the company supplies 1.25 MW turbines based on technology from Germany's Dewind, with which it has a technology transfer agreement. Around 30 units are due to be shipped this year, while the target for next year is 300 units. Two machines have been commissioned at Laizhou wind farm, Shandong province, which is being developed by Shandong Luneng Development Group in partnership with Yangtai Electric Power. A further 38 units are due to follow.

Quality concern

Orders have also been placed for the 33.75 MW Youyu and 41.25 MW Pinglu wind farms being developed by Shanxi International Electric Power in North China's Shanxi province. Right now, says Fan, the company is less concerned about order volumes. "Product quality is our main concern," she said emphatically. Indeed, the company was approached for supplying larger turbines for the East China Sea offshore wind project. It says it declined the request after an objective assessment of its own ability.

A 2 MW machine specifically for the Chinese market may be in the offing, however. Shanghai Electric's Sewind is working with Germany's Aerodyn, a respected wind turbine design company, on developing the machine and will own the intellectual property rights to the turbine upon completion. The two will continue working together for at least a further three to four years, says the Chinese company, with the German firm assisting with staff training.

Sewind also hopes to virtually replicate Aerodyn's research and development (R&D) facilities and capabilities. In the process, trainees are expected to design 3-5 MW machines for offshore use, all of which will be subject to international standards and certification before progressing to the manufacturing stage, assures Sewind. The company already has two wind turbine manufacturing plants, one in Shanghai and one in Tianjin, but it hopes to develop a small wind farm site at Lingang to act as a testing bed for its planned new generators, starting with the 2 MW model. Sewind hopes the Lingang site will meet the R&D needs of manufacturers at home and abroad for testing offshore and onshore wind turbines.

Goldwind learning curve

Meanwhile, China's leading turbine supplier, Goldwind, is another company to have learned from mistakes, said Wu Gang. He sees Goldwind's entry into an industry, now two decades old, as giving his company a distinct advantage. "Other global manufacturers provided us with 20 years experience," he said. In 1994 the company's aim was "to provide best proven technology and to learn from them and develop our own technology," he said, noting it was German technology the company opted for in the first instance. In developing its own technology, Goldwind went on to use Chinese made gearboxes. "But in 2005 we stopped," Wu said, with the company again reverting to the use of German technology. Its 750 kW unit is produced under a licence agreement with Repower, while Vensys has been Goldwind's port of call for its 1.5 MW unit (Windpower Monthly, November 2006). Wu also stressed that the company invited overseas wind technology experts to assess its supply and assembly lines. "As a result, we have a very good mass production of gearboxes," he said.

"I do not know why we are building larger and larger machines," Wu added. "The 1.5 MW is a more reliable product." Still the company hopes to bring a 3 MW offshore unit to the market in the future. As China's leading domestic supplier with over 30% of last year's market -- and with the company about to list on the stock exchange -- most expect Goldwind to turn its attention to the global market. "We started work, recognising the importance of a global strategy last year," Wu said. "But we must not be hasty."

He is not the only one with distant sights set on overseas markets. "If Chinese firms were in a position to sell to the US they would," said Sinovel's Han. "It won't be long, they will be able to do that." For now, Sinovel is concentrating on ramping up production to meet the skyrocketing demand in China. "We can produce eight-hundred megawatts a year," Sinovel's Chen Danghui said. "We are pretty new to the market," he explained.

Sinovel ramp up

Sinovel, affiliated to China's massive Dalian Group, signed a technology transfer contract in 2004 with small Austrian wind turbine design company Windtec, now owned by American Superconductor Corporation. Sinovel produces a 1.5 MW machine under the Windtec licence and has been producing "large quantities" of its 1.5 MW machine, Han said. By end 2006 some 100, 1.5 MW units had come off the assembly line and this year some 500 units will be delivered.

Sinovel and Windtec are working on bringing a 3 MW unit and 5 MW unit to market. The product range will meet different needs including cold climate conditions. By end 2008 the company hopes to have completed testing of its 3 MW machine with small scale production kicking in during 2009, ramping up to mass production in 2010. Indeed, its target for 2010 is to deliver 1200, 3 MW machines.

"We must develop our own supply chain," Chen said. "It is a precondition for the commercialisation and industrialisation of the wind sector." He stressed: "We believe we must put quality at the top of the agenda...we have introduced the strictest quality control systems and adhere to international standards such as ISO 9001."

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