Goldwind: Will Wind Be China’s Next Big Export to the US?
The U.S. CEO of the Chinese giant says he’s building jobs here, too.
May 11, 2011 - greentechmedia.com
Goldwind used to call itself the biggest wind turbine manufacturing company nobody had heard about.
But, as Steve Sawyer, the Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council, recently said, “China has become the single largest driver for global wind power development.” And, he added, one of every two wind turbines installed in the world in 2010 was installed in China. Goldwind, with about ten percent of the 38,000 megawatts installed last year, was the fourth biggest turbine manufacturer globally. Today, few have not heard of them.
However, there are indications that Chinese domestic growth is plateauing. American Superconductor (AMSC), which makes components for China’s biggest wind industry manufacturers, just revised its short-term growth forecasts downward following an order revision by Sinovel, AMSC’s biggest customer and China’s biggest turbine manufacturer. China needs new wind markets.
In April 2010, Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co., Ltd., got ahead of the curve by forming Goldwind USA and bringing CEO Tim Rosenzweig aboard. With the Recovery Act driving U.S. expansion, Rosenzweig had every reason to foresee clear sailing until the controversial question of U.S. stimulus money going to China complicated his job.
“I’m just trying to build an American wind turbine sales and service organization,” he said of the controversy. “I will leave the political questions to the politicians.”
In the last year, Rosenzweig has grown the company from two employees to fifteen and he's about to bring on five more. While overseeing the operation of a three-turbine demonstration project in Minnesota, Rosenzweig has finalized arrangements for a utility-scale 106.5-megawatt project in central Illinois and is on the verge of announcing two more turbine deals.
“We’ve made tremendous strides,” Rosenzweig said. “The technology and the capital come from China, but we’re hoping to deploy them in an efficient way to build a profitable business that creates jobs and investment in U.S. infrastructure.”
Rosenzweig personifies the Xinjiang Goldwind management principle of hiring locals and giving them what they need. “Goldwind’s perspective toward the North American team,” Scott Rowland, Goldwind USA’s Vice President of Engineering, said recently, “is ‘Tell us what you need to be successful and we’ll support you.’”
Rosenzweig’s motto is “Grow your revenues, reduce your cost,” he said. “That’s the economic value for our customers that we’re bringing into this market.”
Rosenzweig has made sure Goldwind USA turbines are largely domestically sourced. “On a project basis, over half is going to be domestic content,” he said of the Illinois Shady Oaks installation. “When you factor in labor and transport, you get even higher numbers.”
North Dakota’s LM Wind Power will make the blades and Illinois’s Broadwind Energy will make the towers. “I expect it to be similar to our Minnesota project,” Rosenzweig said, “which had about 63 percent domestic content by value.”
Goldwind’s greatest strength is in its turbines’ nacelles, where the permanent magnet direct drive (PMDD) generator the company’s engineers began developing six or seven years ago is housed. The PMDD generator is now widely seen as the emerging industry standard, and Goldwind is the acknowledged world leader, with over 6,000 units in operation globally.
“By using permanent magnets, you reduce the top of the tower mass,” Rosenzweig explained. “Less steel, less cost.” The PMDD, he went on, eliminates the gearbox. “It’s the part of the turbine that breaks the most often, and when it does break, it’s very expensive to replace or fix.” With Goldwind’s PMDD, “that’s effectively designed out.”
In China, Rosenzweig said, Goldwind’s PMDD technology has proved itself “offshore, up in high altitudes, in the cold of Mongolia and the heat of the Gobi Desert.” It has “lower maintenance requirements” and “a very good performance record across our fleet.”
The durability of the PMDD generator is one of the keys to Xinjiang Goldwind’s recently announced huge investment shift from onshore to offshore wind.
“Our parent company in China,” Rosenzweig said, “has a 2.5-megawatt machine being readied for offshore use.” He added, “The R&D department is working on a 6-megawatt machine that’s still a little ways away. They’re making the investment in equipment for that market, [but] they will deploy that in Asian markets first and make sure they’ve got that equipment operating very well before they export it to the U.S. or Europe.”
The enticing but unpioneered winds of Lake Michigan are just beyond the Chicago headquarters of Goldwind USA, but Rosenzweig said there are no plans to follow the parent company offshore. “I think it’s a matter of ‘when’ we will be more active in the offshore market here,” Rosenzweig said, “but first they want to commercialize the technology in their home market.” And, Rosenzweig added, “We’re over here building our U.S. presence, our North American presence, building our company, building the brand in this market.”
There are rumors of consolidation in the turbine manufacturing world, rumors of deals that, if they happen, would be attributed to marketplace pressures created by Chinese players. Such deals might -- the rumors suggest -- involve some of the biggest companies in the world. Spain’s Gamesa and India’s Suzlon have been mentioned.
Rosenzweig was very cautious in talking about the rumors, a caution that may imply that there is some substance to the gossip. “The world is very competitive now,” he said. “Turbine manufacturers must be in a position to be more competitive. [...] Those that can’t -- we’ll see what happens. The industry has grown a lot, but there are a lot of manufacturers out there so it will be interesting to see where this ends up.”