Wind Industry

The 5 years from 1980 to 1985 were the nascent stage of wind industry. The boom of wind farms in California drove the exponential growth of the wind industry from 3 to 900 MW. The California wind market was due to tax shelters (solar and investment tax credits), and avoided costs and standard contracts set by the California Energy Commission. As with many new industries, there were a lot of manufacturers. Only small wind turbines (<100 kW) were available commercially, and there were many problems with reliability. From 1980 to 1990, four features characterized the wind industry, which was synonymous with the wind farms in California: (1) rapid growth; (2) development of intermediate-sized wind turbines (100-600 kW) without government funding; (3) the aerospace companies in the United States dropped out, even those who received government funding for design and development; and (4) strong foreign competition, primarily from Europe. Foreign manufacturers, with Denmark leading the way, became an important factor. Vertical-axis wind turbines from Flowind and VAWTPower were installed in California wind farms, but the majority were horizontal-axis wind turbines.

The 5 years from 1986 to 1990 were primarily consolidation and shakeout within the industry. The tax credits ended in 1985; however, contracts from previous years meant wind turbines were still being installed in California, but not at the increased pace of the previous 5 years. There were less than ten U.S. manufacturers in 1990, and only one major manufacturer, U.S. Windpower.

U.S. federal R&D support for wind energy fell to a low of $8 million in 1988. However, the Europeans increased their support for wind energy during this period. Japanese companies, especially Mitsubishi, entered the world market and were determined to be a major manufacturer. Many of the earlier large-megawatt units were prototypes developed with government funding; however, by the end of the decade, the development was driven by the market, as those wind turbines increased in size from the 100 kW units.

Three hundred fifty million dollars, over half of the federal funding for wind energy from 1973 to 1990, was spent on the development of large wind turbines. This program was largely a failure because the program proceeded to the next stage without fully developing the wind turbines at the previous stage. Design of wind turbines was much more difficult than the engineers in the aerospace companies had anticipated, and the aerospace industry was only interested in cost plus government contracts, rather than developing a commercial product. All the Department of Energy prototypes were taken down due to failures or because O&M costs were too high.

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