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Contingency planning for supply lines

The Spanish wind industry's jostling for position as a key force on the global wind power stage was further demonstrated at Spain's PowerExpo trade fair in September when it got together with leading international component suppliers to discuss contingency plans for tackling surging demand and overstretched supply lines at a seminar organised by national wind association Asociación Empresarial Eólica (AEE). The key strategy, it seems, will be a continuation of Spain's model of integrating project development and turbine manufacture to provide long term visibility of component requirements.

A main reason for the current global shortage of turbines is that "manufacturers simply have not believed [independent] developer plans," said Acciona's Jose Luis Mataix. "That's why there are no turbines left for 2007."

Like Gamesa, Acciona makes wind turbines and develops projects, but unlike Gamesa it does not exclusively use its own 1.5 MW turbine model in its projects. Both Gamesa and Acciona, however, make their turbines available to competing developers. On the business strategy front, Gamesa takes integration a step further through its part ownership by utility Iberdrola, which is also its major customer for wind turbines and for completed wind farms.

Gamesa's vertical integration has also focused on making as many of its required turbine components as possible. At least some of its requirements for gearboxes, generators, blades, root joints and towers come from companies it now owns. Gamesa's Gonzalo Gonzain, however, pinpoints carbon fibre shortages for the firm's 2 MW blades as a major hurdle, highlighting the need for long term agreements with raw material suppliers.

Gearbox fears

Concern about the control of huge chunks of the global gearbox market by two companies that also produce wind turbines -- Suzlon of India and multi-national power equipment giant Siemens -- remains. Trying to ease the fears, Eric Backekohler of Belgian gearbox firm Hansen, bought by Suzlon earlier this year, said the takeover "has changed nothing", regarding independent relationships with clients, "for the time being." Hansen is extending annual production capacity from 3500 MW currently to 6000 MW by 2009 "to improve lead times and flexibility," he said.

Winergy, a Siemens division supplying a significant proportion of gearboxes to the wind industry, was among others stressing the need for closer ties between component suppliers and wind industry strategic plans. From bearing supplier SKF of Sweden, Stefan Karston pointed out that his company is battling with the unknown quantity of offshore wind power. "The year for offshore takeoff could be 2007 or 2008 or later, with a sudden surge of anything up to seven gigawatt of development. We just don't know," he said. "To ensure supplies, SKF needs to be integrated as a driving force within wind industry and development strategies."

With the rapidly growing wind markets in China and the US, which together made up 45% of the global market in 2005 compared with just 12% in 2002, setting up local production in boom regions is vital, not only for turbine manufacturers but also component suppliers, agreed seminar participants. Local manufacture avoids transport costs, export license costs -- particularly stiff in India -- and volatile exchange rates.

Facing up to soaring global steel costs, Acciona Windpower is producing concrete towers of 60-80 metres for its 1.5 MW machine, while Gamesa Eólica has founded Gamesa Concrete Tower to produce 120 metre towers for its 4.5 MW machine, currently under development. With a 128 metre rotor span, the 4.5 MW unit will also use a sectional blade, assembled onsite and requiring the same transport used for delivering the 80-90 metre blades on its 2 MW machine.

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