Special Report - Opportunity and Risk in China - Component supply - Big opportunities in technology transfer

For foreign companies, one area of China's market where opportunity is strong is component supply. Chinese competitors are growing in number and strength, but so is the demand for wind equipment. "While downstream wind capacity has been growing at nearly 96% per annum since 2005, upstream suppliers have not been able to expand at the same pace," according to Lehman Brothers, an investment bank, before its recent collapse.

So far, supply has met demand, according to Denmark's BTM Consult, an information provider to the international wind industry. In 2007, Chinese component suppliers met 90% of the demand for 600-750 kW machines in the country and 70% for 1.5 kW models, it reports in its World Market Update for 2007. Globally, China's expanding wind equipment business is also doing its bit to alleviate shortages, with production of castings in China meaning that supplies worldwide are just keeping pace with demand, says BTM.


A leader among Chinese component suppliers is China High Speed Transmission (CHST), a company with big overseas ambitions and the dominant gearbox supplier for wind turbines made in China, serving both domestic and international companies alike. Formerly known as Nanjing High-Speed & Accurate Gear Group, CHST produced more than 1300 gearboxes in 2007, with that rising to 2400 this year. With a market capitalisation value of $2396 million, in July it became the first Chinese gearbox firm to list on the Hong Kong Stock Market.

"As the dominant supplier of wind gearboxes, which are facing a severe shortage of supply globally, we believe CHST is the best positioned to capture the tremendous potential of the wind sector in China," says Lehman in its report, "China's Great Transition: Taming Inflation, Cleaning up the Environment; Building Infrastructure," released in August. "Backed by its strong bargaining power along the value chain, we believe CHST can pass through increases in steel costs and maintain stable margins."

The other main Chinese gearbox supplier is Chongqing Gearbox, a company affiliated to China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC). In combination, CHST and Chongqing met nearly 80% of demand for gearboxes for wind turbines made in China last year. Hangzhou Advance Gearbox Group rounds up the domestic top three in component supply, with an annual manufacturing capacity of 500 gearboxes for 1.5 MW machines.

BTM notes though that for gearboxes "current production capacity in China can only meet half of its growing demand." This year, Hansen Transmission, a Belgian gearbox supplier owned by Suzlon, took the bait, announcing plans to build a EUR200 million factory in Beichen Hi-tech Industrial Park in Tianjin (Windpower Monthly, April 2008). From a production start next September, it will reach full capacity in 2011, providing gearboxes for 3000 MW of wind power capacity.

Meanwhile, UK gearbox specialist Romax Technology is working with Dalian Huarui, the gearbox sister company to Chinese turbine manufacturer Sinovel. Together they are designing gearboxes for 3 MW turbines being developed by Sinovel. "This collaboration will bring a global perspective to our business and we are very confident that Dalian Huarui will become a significant player in the production of gearboxes worldwide," says Dalian's Chen Lixin. Romax is particularly active in China. Earlier this year it completed a joint project with turbine manufacturer Baoding Tianwei to design the main rotor bearing housing for a 1.5 MW wind turbine.


Rotor blades supply in China has increased rapidly. "China has mastered the technology of blade manufacturing and has seven companies able to mass produce blades for turbines of up to 1.5 MW capacity," says BTM.

Most of the leading global turbine manufacturers have established blade facilities in China, as has world leader LM Glasfiber. It has two factories, one in Urumqi in Xinjiang and the other in Tianjin, where a large proportion of China's international wind turbine industry is based. In 2007 LM signed a strategic agreement, lasting a minimum of six years, with China's leading turbine supplier, Goldwind, for its 1.5 MW machines and eventually for its 2 MW or bigger models.

The leading domestic blade firms are CCGC Lianzhong Composites Group Corporation, Sinoma Science and Technology Wind Power Blades Joint Stock Company, Shanghai FRP Research Institute and Zhonghang (Baoding) Huiteng Windpower Equipment. CCGC, Sinoma and Zhonghang Huiteng are working to expand their annual production capacity to 1000 blade sets by the end of this year. Shanghai FRP expects to expand its annual production capacity to 550 sets in 2009. By the end of 2009, Chinese blade factories will have the capacity to produce blades for more than 6 GW of turbines, according to a recently released global supply chain assessment by BTM.

Bearings, generators

"For main bearings, China is almost entirely dependent on imports," says BTM. It also notes that this is the component that globally is in short supply. International companies SKF, FAG and Timken, the wind industry's three major bearing suppliers, will continue to do well in China, agrees Lehman. With the construction of its own production facility in Shenyang province, SKF is a step in front.

In sharp contrast to the bearings industry, domestic suppliers dominate China's wind turbine generator market. The leading companies are Yongji Electric Machine Factory, Lanzhou Electric Corporation, Harbin Electric Machinery, XEMC Xiangtan Electric Motor, Shanghai Electric Motor and Zhuzhou CSR Electric Motor.

Control systems

"Electrical control systems are the weakest sector in terms of domestic supply, even though at least six suppliers have entered the market," says BTM. "In terms of electrical control systems, China has little experience and many enterprises are still doing research on the road to producing mature products," agrees the 2007 China Wind Power Report, produced by the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association with the Global Wind Energy Council and Greenpeace. "Enterprises currently in the research process include the Institute of Electrical Engineering Chinese Academy of Sciences, Hefei Sunlight, Xuji Electric Company and Nanjing Automatic Research Institute."

Article by Lin Jianyang, China Features for Windpower Monthly.

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