Conversations about the current “hot markets” for U.S. shops tend to gravitate toward the aerospace, medical and oil industries. Lately, though, wind energy is popping up with more regularity.
Although power generation via wind turbines is more popular in Europe than in the United States, it appears to be gaining steam in the States as an alternate energy source. With that come business opportunities for shops that have the capability to machine the very large components that comprise modern wind turbines.
The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) reports that more than 20 gigawatts of wind power capacity were installed worldwide in 2007, led by the U.S., Spain and China. That represents a 31-percent increase compared with the 2006 world market and lifts the total global capacity to more than 94 gigawatts.
According to the GWEC, the U.S. installed over 5 gigawatts of wind power capacity in 2007, bringing our total installed capacity to more than 16.8 gigawatts (a 45-percent increase versus 2006). As a result, the U.S. now ranks second in the world behind Germany and its 22.3 gigawatts of installed capacity—for the moment, anyway. The GWEC estimates that the U.S. will surpass Germany and become the leader of wind energy production by the end of 2009.
Chances are if your shop has heavy machining capacity, then you already know about the opportunities that this alternate-energy market presents or perhaps you are currently making money off of it. If either scenario is the case, then how can you gage if this market will represent a steady stream of work in the coming years? I suggest looking for news about:
Federal production tax credits—Installation of wind turbines fluctuates in synch with the expiration and extension cycles of a federal production tax credit that is made available to renewable energy providers. The future of this tax credit is uncertain; it is due to expire at year’s end. A long-term commitment to this tax credit would brighten wind power’s future.
Improvements in transmission lines—Wind-power advocates say improvements are necessary to allow electrical transmission lines to better accommodate alternate energy sources such as wind power. Progress in this regard could lead to more widespread adoption of wind power as a viable source of energy.
Gigawatt-size projects—As of early 2008, at least three gigawatt-size wind energy projects were proposed in the U.S. If the number of these sizeable projects increases, then that shows strong investments are being made in wind power.
Editor PickMore Than Big Machines
This shop specializes in very large components such as rotor hubs and support bases for wind turbines. Its lineup of large horizontal boring mills can handle parts weighing 40,000 pounds and 12 feet on a side. However, the shop’s success also lies in other manufacturing resources and strategies. These include material handling equipment, customized tooling, special fixtures and wireless, portable measuring systems.