European wind turbine manufacturers are financially struggling and cutting jobs, putting them at risk of losing market share to Chinese competitors, despite the energy crisis, major industry players have warned.
Turbine makers General Electric Renewables and Siemens Gamesa both announced job cuts in recent weeks, and European manufacturers were “all financially struggling,” Jon Lezamiz Cortázar, global head of public affairs at Siemens, told the Financial Times.
“Everything is getting much more expensive in an already stretched wind industry supply chain,” he said. If the situation did not improve, “it may happen that the European Green Deal is installed with non-European technology”.
The Global Wind Energy Council said it was likely to downgrade its forecasts for the amount of new capacity added this year globally from around 101 gigawatts to 94-95 gigawatts. This amounts to almost no growth since last year, with 2021 being a peak year for offshore wind installation.
The challenging picture comes even as European leaders scramble to boost their supply of domestically produced renewable energy in the context of a global energy crisis fuelled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The EU wants to increase its target for renewable energy from 32 per cent of total power production to 45 per cent by 2030.
“Companies are laying people off, at a time when the supply chain should be ramping up,” said Ben Backwell, chief executive of the Global Wind Energy Council.
Inflation and the rising cost of key materials, such as steel and copper, have pushed up the cost of making turbines. But long lead times and turbine prices that are locked in by customers years in advance have made it difficult for manufacturers to pass on higher costs. Many have now started raising prices and renegotiating contracts with customers.
The industry is also grappling with supply chain delays, already strained by the lockdowns during the pandemic and exacerbated since the war in Ukraine. That put companies at risk of having to pay so-called “liquidated damages” to customers, or compensation payments related to project delays, analysts said.
Vestas Wind global head of marketing and public affairs, Morten Dyrholm, said the current situation amounted to “a pretty critical period in time for the supply chain”.
Shares in Vestas, turbine maker Nordex and offshore wind farm developer Orsted have all been sliding since their peaks in early 2021.
Vestas missed analyst expectations for its second-quarter results, posting an underlying operating loss of €182mn, while Siemens reported its first quarterly loss in nearly 12 years.
Morningstar analyst Matthew Donen said western companies were at risk of losing out to Chinese competitors, many of which were more financially resilient and could build turbines for less.
“The threat of Chinese competition is increasing,” he said. “They can match now the western turbine manufacturers, which hadn’t been the case in the past.”
Backwell said Chinese manufacturers were “stepping in” in emerging markets, but could also move more into Europe. They had benefited from years of policy certainty at home, while western companies faced “stop-start” policymaking, and a large domestic steel industry, he said.
Western manufacturers said European policymakers must do more to protect the domestic wind industry by reforming the approval process to make it quicker to obtain permission for new projects.
“Supply chains would be in much better shape if there were enough projects to go round,” but they can take up to 10 years to be approved, said Dyrholm.
Wind auctions — during which governments assess offers for the generation of electricity and sign power purchasing agreements with bidders — should also take factors beyond price into account, such as whether turbine parts are recyclable, company executives said.
On Tuesday, executives from major renewables companies including SSE, Vestas and Siemens Gamesa wrote an open letter to G20 nations asking them to do more to accelerate the deployment of wind energy worldwide.
“At the current pace of growth, we are only on-track to reach less than two-thirds of the global wind capacity required by 2030 for a net zero and Paris-compliant pathway,” the executives warned.
Ramping up new wind power would require countries to raise their renewable energy targets, make the approval process easier and invest in expanding electricity grids, they said.
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