The global wind energy market has witnessed tremendous growth in recent years, as annual wind turbine installations recover after a slight dip in 2010. Global installed capacity increased at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.3%, from 74,192MW in 2006 to 238,351MW in 2011, of which 40,714MW went online in 2011. Turbine installations grew from 40.7GW in 2011 to 50.9GW in 2012 as a result of large order intakes by major wind turbine manufacturers.

During the forecast period 2012-20, global wind turbine installations will experience steady growth, with cumulative installed capacity reaching 427,338MW by 2015 and 736,957MW by 2020.

China, the US and India top the wind tower market

China and the US dominated the wind towers market in 2011 in terms of the number of towers installed (see Figure 1). The two countries installed 12,766 and 3,782 towers, respectively, and together contributed to more than 75% of the global tower installations. India followed closely with 2,415 towers, contributing 11.2% of the global total of towers installations. Canada (3%), Germany (4%), Spain (2.2%) and the UK (1.6%) were the other countries in the market with a significant number of towers installed in 2011.

Wind tower units installed annually 2006-11

The global annual tower installations increased steadily from 2006 to 2008 due to favourable governmental policies in several countries and an increase in environmental awareness (see Figure 2). However, the financial crisis in 2009 severely affected investment in most industries, including wind energy, leading to a reduction in the number of planned projects reaching completion. This resulted in a fall in the number of towers installed in 2010.

There was a sharp rise in installed wind power capacity in 2011 and the same trend was seen in 2012 as the majority of the projects suspended in 2010 were completed. This sharp rise is not evident in the number of towers installed, however, since average turbine capacity has been increasing, which implies a fall in the number of turbines (and towers) installed to achieve the same capacity.

Installed capacity fell in 2012, but a slight improvement over 2009 levels is expected this year because deferred projects from 2010 will most likely be executed. As well as this fall in capacity, the increase in average turbine capacities also reduced the number of towers required. From 2014 to 2020, the addition of wind energy capacity is expected to increase significantly. Once again, the number of towers installed annually for this period will increase only slightly due to average turbine capacity rising each year.

China: 2011’s largest wind turbine user and manufacturer

China was the largest manufacturer and user of wind towers in the world in 2011 (see Figure 3). Being a manufacturing-intensive economy, and supported by government subsidies and favourable policies, China produces wind towers at a low cost due to economies of scale, and these turbines are in great demand, locally and overseas, as a result of their price advantage. Being the largest wind power market in the world, China also uses large quantities of wind towers, all of which are manufactured domestically.

Although China is the largest exporter of wind towers in the world with 2.4 and 2.6GW of towers exported in 2010 and 2011, respectively, exports account for a very small portion of the country’s production, with more than 18GW of towers installed domestically. The US is the major export market for Chinese wind towers. Chinese companies, however, have been accused by US wind tower manufacturers of supplying wind towers at a less than reasonable price due to an unfair advantage enjoyed by Chinese manufacturers resulting from government subsidies. The US International Trade Commission has levied an anti-dumping duty of between 13.74 and 26% on Chinese imports of wind towers.

This will affect the exports of wind towers manufactured in China, but will not adversely affect the industry, as exports form a small portion of the demand for towers made in China.