U.K. market for small wind turbines surpasses U.S., but U.S. manufacturers benefit

As reported in the recent release of the AWEA 2011 U.S. small wind report summary, U.S. small wind manufacturers last year for the first time sent more capacity overseas than they installed domestically. Numbers in the recently released U.K. small wind report provide added insight into that trend, with that market achieving triple-digit growth.

The U.K. 2011 market report, released at last week’s annual RenewableUK Small and Medium Wind Conference, revealed that the U.K. market for small wind turbines (i.e., less than 100 kW) surpassed the U.S. market, with 22 MW installed in the U.K. in 2011 compared to 19 MW in the U.S. The U.K. experienced a huge 153 percent increase in installed capacity compared to 2010, while the U.S. suffered a 26 percent reduction in the same period.

But while the recent market decrease in the U.S. is disappointing news for the American small-wind industry, the news coming from across the Atlantic has been good for U.S. manufacturers. Those manufacturers are benefiting from the U.K.’s attractive Feed-in Tariff (FIT) mechanism, which has been in place since April 2010 and offers fixed tariffs for 20 years based on system capacity. The less good news, however, is that the tariffs are currently under formal U.K. Government review for possible reductions. Proposals are for a 15-40 percent reduction in FIT value, depending on kW rating.

Besides the pending FIT reductions, the chief barrier in the U.K., as in the U.S., is permitting. Approximately 11 percent of permits are rejected, and application processing time averages between four and six months. These topics were discussed in detail at the recent annual RenewableUK meeting in Glasgow, attended by more than 250 international small- and medium-wind delegates, including representatives of the leading North American wind manufacturers. In addition to an exhibition, the conference included sessions on policy, financing, international markets, testing and certification, lessons learned, safe practices, and planning (permitting). AWEA’s Larry Flowers, deputy director of distributed and community wind, presented the 2011 U.S. small wind market highlights in the international session.

RenewableUK estimates that 2012 will be another boom year, with a 144 percent increase in small wind installations over the 2011 record year. Thus, while the U.K. market appears robust for this year, the industry will need to keep an eye on how the FIT scheme will be modified in the coming months.

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