Programmes and policies

Explaining why national programmes for stimulating wind turbine installation have consequences more significant and wide-reaching than is usually presumed, and why policies such as local protectionism are a mistake

From: Michel Ardoullie, Mechelen, Belgium

National programmes for stimulating wind turbine installation have consequences more significant and more wide-reaching than is usually presumed. A better understanding of these consequences would avoid errors of policy, such as the introduction of local protectionist policies to keep a wind company alive in the belief that jobs are at stake.

It is often argued that a programme in a specific country can provide the leverage for creation of a turbine manufacturing industry in that country. There are examples in the US, Denmark and Germany, which have made and sold thousands of turbines. Other countries with similar programmes, such as Holland, England, Spain and Italy, have not positioned their manufacturers on the world market. These relatively limited programmes allowed for only a few wind turbines annually. Survival of wind companies here is dependent on regional protectionist policies. The danger is that the list of countries with such policies will grow steadily longer for the sake of getting only a few wind plant installed.

Most wind turbine manufacturers only assemble the end product after designing the components and selecting a manufacturer of them. Assembly only represents a few hundred man hours per turbine, or less than 1% of its value. Local assembly does not create substantial added value for local industry. A company must also make the components for the wind turbine to obtain a significant employment benefit. The best example of this can be found in the French wind industry. It is capable of producing components for worldwide export without the support of a national promotion programme. Companies like Sime, Rollix, Petitjean and Atout Vent have all delivered components to the European wind industry for some years. The world market is substantially larger than the ambitions of national programmes for wind farm construction.

It remains true that such programmes do provide the leverage mentioned, if only by making potential component manufacturers aware of the existing market. An initiative in Nord-Pas de Calais in France "woke up" companies like CMD and Leroy Somer which, as component suppliers, were given the opportunity to improve the quality and competitiveness of their products through a local wind energy project. They can also use this project as a demonstration of their products.

If a national programme for wind farm construction can position some of that country's companies on the world wind market, the effect on job creation will be much more substantial than by supporting local assembly of wind turbines. If this programme is complemented by a programme of research and development of high performance components and stimulation of the creation of trans-European partnerships, it is not unlikely that an "Airbus" construction could come into being for the wind industry, where European products dominate the market with significant added value for local industry.

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