Chicago was identified years ago as the site for WINDPOWER 2013. The conference co-chairs were named before WINDPOWER 2012 even happened, and programme abstracts were due back in September, setting the stage for committees of top industry members to put together a cutting-edge educational programme of top-tier speakers.

The American Wind Energy Association’s WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition is the big event of the year for the US wind energy industry. Approximately 11,000 people participated in WINDPOWER 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia, and thousands more will descend on Chicago when the event comes to town on 5-8 May 2013.

Given that Atlanta is in the south-eastern US, which is home to many wind industry supply chain plants, much of the focus of 2012’s show was on wind power manufacturing. Chicago, meanwhile, though also close to much manufacturing, is in proximity to the burgeoning development activity happening in the Midwest. The nearby state of Iowa, for example, already gets nearly 20% of its electricity from wind power, and the development activity continues. The middle third of the US boasts some of the world’s best wind resources.

Comprehensive programming

One could go on about the exhibition: 920 exhibitors in 2012, exhibition space equivalent to nearly five American football fields, cocktail receptions to wrap up the day, equipment demonstrations, multistorey booths and so on.

But one of the other aspects that makes WINDPOWER such a draw is the educational programming. The event features 80 sessions that shed light on market trends, technology developments and, of course, policy. As with any market, members of the industry in the US – and those considering entering it – must have a firm understanding of the policies that affect US wind energy. WINDPOWER is a great place to get the latest information; in fact, sometimes policy news is even made at the event.

It was at WINDPOWER 2012 that the federal Production Tax Credit, US wind power’s primary policy driver, got a big show of bipartisan support when Karl Rove, former senior adviser to President George W Bush and a vocal conservative, joined Robert Gibbs, former press secretary and adviser to President Obama, on the stage to talk wind power policy. While they likely agree on few issues, they certainly were together on one: the PTC is good for the US. Such productive conversations are helping to drive the push for sound policy in the US.

While the plenary sessions feature such high-profile speakers, concurrent sessions allow members of the industry to drill deep into the various issues that matter to the industry, featuring industry executives and technical experts alike.

"We’re putting together a great programme for WINDPOWER 2013 in Chicago," said Randolph Mann, vice-president for wind development at Edison Mission Energy and a WINDPOWER 2013 co-chair. "We’re going to have experts from across the industry teaching about their newest techniques, about the latest trends, about the most recent developments and about the outlook for the future."

A four-day networking opportunity

Aside from the stellar educational programming, what makes WINDPOWER such a powerful event, say attendees, is the opportunity it presents to establish industry contacts, build relationships and do business. The event is viewed as a four-day networking opportunity, from the chats that take place in convention centre corridors and between sessions to the more social settings organisers create so that attendees can mingle and just have fun in more relaxed environments.

"WINDPOWER 2013 features 80 sessions that shed light on market trends, technology developments and policy."

"If you want to maintain relationships, and build relationships in the industry, you have to be at this event," said Clint Johnson, senior vice-president – North America at GL Garrad Hassan and the other WINDPOWER programme co-chair. "This is really the place to do it. As everybody knows, everybody’s here, and so if you want to meet anybody, you’ve got to be here."

As for the more relaxed off-site activities, WINDPOWER is somewhat unique for the range of events and settings it creates. To start, there are, of course, the bustling cocktail receptions on the exhibition floor at the end of the day, when the trade show environment almost instantaneously gives way to a more festive atmosphere that fosters both good times and productive conversation.

WINDPOWER takes such opportunities a step further. For several years, in addition to the ever-popular WINDPOWER golf tournament, the event has featured the annual conference dinner (last year’s took place at the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world), concerts with top-tier acts, 5km road races and, in Atlanta, an ‘After Hours’ event, in which attendees could go from venue to venue, all within walking distance to see various local live music acts.

As with the educational programming and speakers, announcements on details will come early next year concerning the social events that WINDPOWER 2013 will have to offer. So stay tuned, and visit the website (see below) for updates.

"I love it," said Johnson of the WINDPOWER experience, "just for the opportunity to meet with colleagues whom I haven’t seen for a year. And it’s going to be the same in Chicago."

Registration for WINDPOWER 2013 is scheduled to open in January 2013.