Wind farm operators are warning that a shortage of turbines could lead to Scotland missing its targets for delivering electricity from renewable sources.
Environment minister Ross Finnie said recently that he believed that there were probably enough wind farms planned to meet the Scottish Executive’s share of the 40% renewable energy target by 2020.
However, many of Scotland’s operators are struggling to secure permissions for the construction of new wind farms, either because applications are tied up in planning backlogs or public inquiries.
Orders for new turbines are placed only after these permissions are secured. For some that may mean that orders for turbines will not go in until 2009, due to planning delays.
At present there is a spike in demand for turbines from countries such as the US, Germany and Spain and emerging economies such as China and India, where wind is seen as the most viable alternative to hydrocarbon fuels.
The market is also being boosted by an increase in the efficiency of turbines. A modern wind turbine produces 180 times more electricity at less than half the cost per unit than a turbine 20 years ago. As a result, global demand for turbines is outstripping supply; a situation set to continue for several years to come.
Construction of new wind farms in the high growth countries, such as the US, China and India, are on a such a scale that manufacturers are keen to site their factories where they can best service these markets.
In 2005 the US installed 2431MW of new capacity, a 21.1% increase on the previous year. India recorded a 12.4% rise with 1430MW of new capacity, while China boosted capacity by 4.35% to 498MW. In total, 2005 saw 11,531MW of new capacity installed across the world representing a 40.5% advance on 2004.
The fear is that the manufacturing side of the wind-turbine industry will establish itself around current demand.
Most recently the largest manufacturer of wind turbines, Denmark’s Vestas, announced it was scaling back its operation in Scotland with the loss of 40 jobs.
Its facility at Machrihanish, near Campbeltown, will stop production of turbine nacelles [the casings for a turbine generator and gear system] by the end of this year. Another 130 skilled workers will remain as the production of steel towers is to continue.
However, Vestas’s half-yearly report in July said that production of towers at the Campbeltown facility will only continue if “efficiency is increased satisfactorily during the next 12 months”.
Production in Spain, meanwhile, will be extended with another nacelles factory. Vestas has also decided to close down the production of nacelles in Tasmania, Australia.
Scotland’s other main turbine manufacturer, CamCal, on the Isle of Lewis, is currently closed while negotiations with a potential buyer continue.
To meet the threat to Scotland’s fledgling industry a group of operators together with the Scottish Executive and Scottish Development International are planning an approach to turbine manufacturers with a view to attracting a significant manufacturing operation to Scotland.
The plan was hatched at the All-Energy conference in Aberdeen in May this year by a number of wind farm operators and enterprise minister Nicol Stephen.
Alan Baker, chief executive officer of Airtricity Scotland, said: “The US is already booking turbines for 2009. We have to wait until we get the go ahead from the planning and inquiry processes before we can book turbines.
“Developers in Scotland have got together and are drawing up a proposal to put turbine manufacturing in Scotland. A document is going out to the large turbine suppliers in the world to try to bring manufacturing here.
“Scotland’s wind sector is no longer a 50MW turbine sector; we are now talking about a 5000MW sector. By pooling our collective buying power we may be able to avoid turbine shortages in the future.”
SUCH a plan would be hampered by the competitive demands of participating companies. However, Baker said an outline agreement for sharing the output of any Scottish-based turbine manufacturing plant had already been discussed.
Scottish & Southern Energy is also taking part in the initiative. A spokes man for the company stressed the plan was still at an early stage. “There is a significant amount of investment going into wind farms at the moment,” he said. “We would want more and have been in discussions to facilitate an initiative to persuade manufacturers to develop in Scotland.
“We will be taking these discussions further this week at the British Wind Energy Association [BWEA] conference.”
However, he warned that although there was an ongoing stream of wind farms gaining consent there was no point bringing manufacturers to Scotland if the workflow was not there. “Scotland has to indicate its commitment to having a viable renewables industry,” he said.
Enterprise minister Nicol Stephen, who will be attending this week’s BWEA event, also stressed that the initiative to bring a large turbine manufacturer to Scotland was still in its early days.
He added: “It is an industry-led initiative which I have supported from its launch. There will be a meeting at the BWEA conference to review progress and agree the next steps.
“The project is designed to get big wins for everyone involved. It could increase the worldwide supply of wind turbines. It will help Scottish power companies meet their targets. It will win extra benefits for the Scottish economy from renewable energy and open up new export potential.
“There is a lot of hard work ahead but the companies involved in driving this forward have shown a real commitment and determination.”
The 28th BWEA conference is at the SECC, Glasgow, from Tuesday to Thursday this week
By Antony Akilade Deputy Business Editor
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