SARS epidemic hits first Wind Power Asia show

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Both visitor numbers and good news from government were in short supply at Beijing's wind power conference and exhibition. SARS took some of the blame, but not much

The event is like many others. A model white wind turbine in front of the main entrance; banners and logos to catch the eye; neat ranks of exhibition stands, from which brochures are distributed while the latest products take centre stage. There is a brief ribbon cutting ceremony, followed by a half-hour for guests to browse the exhibition. Then the conference kicks off in a second floor meeting room large enough for two hundred people.

The Wind Power Asia 2003 International Conference and Exhibition took place April 9-11 at Beijing International Convention Centre. All seemed normal, yet even the casual observer could not miss the gauze masks worn by some visitors, nor the medical advisors lurking by the registration desk. The spectre of the SARS virus was as much a participant at the event as any supplier and the conference, perhaps inevitably, became a SARS casualty -- being cut short to two days rather than the original three.

Business, though, battled on. "I'm not very concerned about SARS," said Kamlesh Bhadani of India's Suzlon Energy. "Otherwise I wouldn't have come here." Bhadani's company had, however, planned to send a delegation of ten to the event. In the end just two of them flew from New Delhi, but Bhadani was adamant that SARS was not the primary reason for the change. "Hong Kong is an epidemic zone. Beijing is not," he stressed.

On the business front, Bhadani said he found it strange that almost all wind power investors in China were utility companies rather than private investors. The cause, he suggested, is that the incentives provided by the Chinese government to develop wind power are insufficient. "China can draw from the Indian experience in this regard," he added.

Officialdom strong

Chinese government, companies and academia were represented strongly at both the conference and exhibition, but while billed as an international event, foreign faces were few and far between. Those who came were mostly with joint ventures or branches of foreign companies based in Beijing or other parts of China and, with the exception of the Indian Wind Power Association, all foreign-related participants were from companies involved in equipment development, manufacture or supply. These included Aerodyn, Suzlon, GE Wind Energy, Winwind Oy from Finland, Nordex, FAG, Gamesa, and Sunrise Motion. Participating Chinese companies included Longyuan and Huaneng, two giant power companies with wind power operations, and turbine manufacturer Goldwind of Xinjiang. GE Wind Energy secured the most prominent position at the front area of the exhibition, while Longyuan and Spain's Gamesa, which has recently won two new turbine orders in China (page 36), were also hard to miss.

Visitor numbers to the exhibition (which did run for the three days) were also poor, with only 200 people coming through the doors. "We're not very busy," said Wu Honghui of Sunrise Motion Technology, a company based in Shanghai which supplies wind power components and is a sales agent for Rollix and others. The company collected a little over 100 business cards. "This is not abnormal, because the exhibition is very specialised," Wu said, suggesting SARS was not a major cause for the low visitor numbers.

Suzlon's Bhadani added the conference was a good beginning for China. "We made a lot of acquaintances and we're studying the possibility of collaborating with Chinese partners," he said. Presentations and discussion at the conference covered a wide range of topics, from the wind conditions, policies, markets, and development in China and India to company experiences in investment, operation, technology development, project initiation, planning, and equipment manufacturing and supply.

Nothing significant

Anyone expecting a significant policy announcement would have been disappointed -- Shi Lishan, the new chief at the State Development and Reform Commission's New Energy Division, admitted he was not familiar with wind power. He did say the Chinese government had high expectations of the two 100 MW franchised projects that were in the stage of tendering. "They are to provide a footing for a reasonable cost of wind power," he said. "If successful, we wish to see more than a dozen similar projects in the near future."

Longyuan's Zhang Yuan, who was in charge of the wind power sector in the former State Power Corporation (SPC) before it was sliced and diced into five power source companies and two grid operators, was another key speaker. Longyuan inherited all the wind resources of SPC and now, with a total of 224 MW in its hands, has control of more than half of China's total installed wind capacity. With three wind farms currently under development in Shanghai, Gansu, and Inner Mongolia, Zhang said the company's short term target is to boost its total capacity to 900 MW by the year 2007.

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