Wind energy manufacturing boom taking shape in the U.S.

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Nordex USA, the U.S. subsidiary of a German wind turbine manufacturer, broke ground on a new plant in Jonesboro, Ark. in July was only the latest in a growing list of signs that wind energy manufacturing is setting up shop in the U.S

Nordex says assembly at the Arkansas plant will begin in the second half of 2010, operating at full scale by 2012 with an annual production capacity of 300 turbines, or 750 megawatts.

The U.S. Energy Department released a report last month saying “Soaring demand for wind has spurred expansion of wind turbine manufacturing in the U.S. As a result of this continued expansion, the American Wind Energy Association estimates that the share of domestically manufactured wind turbine components has grown from less than 30% in 2005 to roughly 50% in 2008, and that roughly 8,400 new domestic manufacturing jobs were added in the wind sector in 2008 alone.”

Experts say the wind energy manufacturing industry is a good one for the U.S. supply chain because wind turbine manufacturing and assembly relies heavily on locally sourced parts than many current manufacturing industries.

According to a Reuters report, “Local sourcing makes sense for wind turbine production, because of the high number of components needed. The main components are bulky, so transportation can add a huge chunk to the cost.”

Jeff Anthony, director of business development at the American Wind Energy Association, agrees. Anthony tells Purchasing, “As compared to the electronics industry, the size and weight of the components involved in this industry are very significant and the transportation cost is much higher. So when international players are locating a factory in the U.S., one of the major considerations is the proximity to a suitable supply base.”

Also, OEMs in the wind energy market also want to be near their end-market as well, he says, which is a good thing for suppliers in the 28 states that have passed laws requiring utilities to have a certain percentage come from renewable energy.

Anthony says there really isn’t a standard supply chain model in the wind energy industry today. While one OEM tends to make more of the individual components, others tend to outsource more and focus more on certain components and assembly.

“It still presents a variety of opportunities for suppliers in the U.S. to work with all of the OEMs building up their infrastructure in this country,” Anthony says. “Of the top 10 wind turbine manufacturers globally, only two are based in the U.S.”

According to the AWEA, there are more than 8,000 components that make up a finished wind turbine in the tower, rotors, nacelle, foundation and other sections. And with demand for wind turbines up, the manufacturing process is getting a much closer look lately. Atlantic Wind & Solar claims to be designing what could be the first automated fabrication process for the manufacture of wind turbines.

Atlantic Wind & Solar hopes to replicate an automotive assembly line for turbines, which could be capable of manufacturing up to one complete (1.5 Mw) wind turbine per hour or an estimated 2,080 windmills per year.

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