Little sign of the global financial storm raging outside was visible within the cavernous halls of Spain's PowerExpo renewables and energy efficiency trade fair in Zaragoza. The event, held every other year, has grown to house one of the largest wind power exhibitions in the world, and the expansion was no less dramatic this time. More than 15,000 visitors turned up across the three days, over 50% more than in 2006, to fill an area which grew by almost as much. Wind accounted for well over a third of that, occupying a hall of its own and spilling into neighbouring venues.
Spain now has 16 GW of wind power with another 13 GW on the way by 2016, so its greater presence at Zaragoza came as no big surprise. The Spanish industry is also keen to show off its wares to potential customers overseas. From Vestas, Javier Rodríguez believes worldwide installed wind capacity could hit 1000 GW by 2020, compared with about 106 GW today.
Spain's turbine manufacturers intend to have their fair share of that global market going forward. Last year, Spain exported wind power equipment for EUR 2.5 billion, well over the EUR 1.8 billion achieved by the country's globally renown wine industry.
The country's wind project developers are also rapidly expanding into foreign markets. Four operators of wind plant in Spain now have stakes in over 8 GW overseas, pointed out José Donoso, president of Asociación Empresarial Eólica's (AEE), the national wind association. AEE held a conference at PowerExpo that attracted 300 delegates.
A main focus of the conference was meeting expected global demand. Rodríguez said China alone "could be looking at 100 GW by 2020." Gamesa's Carlos Hernández described bottlenecks already in the supply chain, saying that for machines up to 2 MW, lead times for bearing deliveries average 22 months and for gearboxes 16 months. "They're even longer beyond 2 MW," he said. Hernández noted that just 3% of bearing production by Swedish SKF, the world's largest bearing supplier, goes to the wind industry, with only a third or so of its competitors yet able to meet the particular demands of wind turbines. That situation, however, is changing rapidly for the better, he said.
If there was any evidence at PowerExpo of the global credit crunch, it was that while in 2006 lenders had dotted the event floor with displays, this time only one bank, Spain's Caixa Catalunya, even bothered. That, acknowledged Suzlon's Felipe Garcia Mina, reflected the current disconnect between conditions in the financial markets and in the renewables sector. "Wind's still a very profitable investment, but tighter liquidity seems to be dampening exuberance," he said.
Against rising installed costs for wind plant and tighter credit, manufacturers visiting Zaragoza stressed the need for increased turbine efficiency and greater returns on investment. Also, with looming competition from Asia, quality will assume greater importance as a means of fending off rivals, said Gamesa's Juan Diego Diaz. "Right now, the top five manufacturers corner 75% of the global market and the next five 15%. That line-up will inevitably change," he said. China's Goldwind and Sinovel are already in the world's top ten among turbine suppliers and are likely to improve those positions. "The challenge is to stay at the top."
Participants floated various approaches to quality control. Gregorio Acero of Danish blade manufacturer LM Glasfiber said operators must tighten standards of maintenance across the board, especially given a growing tendency to outsource. He recalled his consternation at learning that one operator had subcontracted blade maintenance to a surfboard specialist to save cost. "Now that's plain false economy," he said.
Several component and power electronics suppliers even suggested collectively procuring parts. "It's in everybody's interest to meet demand and clear bottlenecks," said Alberto Esteban of Siemens' specialised gearbox manufacturer Winergy. He pointed out that Winergy repairs gearboxes when possible rather than replacing them. "It's cheaper, faster and, as the gearbox is returned good as new, more cost effective," he said.
One conspicuous feature of the PowerExpo fair was the relative scarcity of wind power hardware on display, with only three complete wind turbine nacelles on the floor, compared with nine in 2006. According to Antonio Alarcón, boss of the event's main organiser, InfoPower, the sheer size of the nacelles today was one of the main reasons for manufacturers being unwilling to truck them into a show. "It's hard to take them everywhere, and most Spanish technology is already very well known at home," he said.
Only the newer technology was on show: local competitors MTorres and Eozen each exhibited 1.5 MW direct drive machines and Acciona Windpower chose the event for the European launch of its 3 MW turbine. It had its American debut at a wind event in Houston in June. Gamesa only brought along the shell of a nacelle, opting to replace cogs and wheels with a three-dimensional computer presentation, while GE Energy of the US and Germany's Enercon and Siemens also opted for virtual demonstrations of their wares.