Opportunity knocks

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In case anyone was in doubt, China is the land of opportunity for wind power players. The country is planning 30,000 MW of wind by 2020 and by some indications it will not only get there, but shoot past that target. So what's the catch? Well, a land of opportunity it may be, but based on last month's performance that opportunity lies largely with domestic project developers and turbine manufacturers who bid for power purchase contracts at prices which sweep foreign competitors off the board, the latest concession contracts being no exception (page 27).

The accepted prices might be too low for profitable wind plant operation (at least by some accounts) and the chosen turbines often smaller and less efficient than those from foreign companies, but that is the way China wants it. For now, the government is intent on fostering growth of a domestic wind industry. It even sees Chinese wind turbines dominating the global stage by the time the 30,000 MW target is hit.

For foreigners to get a look-in, a deal of thinking outside the box will be required. Setting up local manufacturing would not appear to be enough on its own. Joint manufacturing ventures with Chinese companies and sales of licences for local production of turbines are two models which show signs of being a deal more successful in the concessions circus than the Chinese divisions of the giants of the wind world like Vestas, GE and Gamesa. Not that all the Chinese action is controlled by central government, not by a long shot. Outside the concession system, maverick foreign developers are winning the confidence of provincial governments. Whether these joint ventures are more likely to use turbines from domestic or foreign suppliers remains to be seen.

What is certain is that Chinese wind turbine producers looking to upscale their technology are as reliant on specialised components as their foreign competitors are. A wind turbine is only the sum of its parts. Perhaps the biggest opportunity China is offering to the wind industry does not involve the big wind turbine makers, but the companies that make up the supply chain. If they do not move now, it could be their biggest missed opportunity ever.

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