WINDPOWER Program: In an ever-evolving industry, a year’s worth of new topics

It’s a good thing the WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition is an annual event. The wind power industry moves so fast, the conference couldn’t afford to take a year off.

When WINDPOWER 2010 wrapped last May, participants left Dallas with both briefcases and minds chock-full of information on the top policy issues, the latest technology buzz, the key market trends, and the most promising business contacts.

Fast-forward 12 months: policy questions have shifted, the technology has advanced, the market dynamic has grown more complex, and new companies have entered the industry that attendees may want to meet.

What excites Conference Program Co-Chair Owen Clay about the event is how it brings key players together to advance the industry. WINDPOWER, he says, is the industry’s annual town square, where the opportunity to exchange ideas and information is unmatched. And as for people presenting at sessions, “These are the active decision makers from companies and government who impact how wind energy happens in the U.S,” said Clay, director of engineering at NRG Systems, Inc. Of course, there are the CEOs and familiar industry leaders who will spawn lively discussion at the larger sessions and elsewhere, but what Clay finds just as compelling is the contribution, at sessions across the program agenda, of the “senior-management level who are really making the day-to-day decisions.”

With such players driving the discussion, WINDPOWER sessions will drill down into front-of-mind issues confronting the industry, noted Clay and fellow co-chair Tristan Grimbert, CEO of wind power developer enXco. Key issues on tap in the 50 educational sessions include the increasing complexity of developing projects (read: siting and permitting issues), the ever-evolving project finance landscape, the curtailment of wind farms, and much more. (For a look at what’s on tap for WINDPOWER, see the detailed program.)

The good news is that wind power professionals, many of whom will attend and present at WINDPOWER, are handling those issues. Perhaps one of the top wind power success stories this year—and certainly one that’s sure to be broached in Anaheim—is its cost competitiveness with other energy sources, thanks to several factors including ever-improving technology.

In short, buying wind power is a good deal all around. “Right now utilities have a unique opportunity to lock in a wind power [purchase agreement] for a very low price, for a very long time,” Grimbert said. And on top of its competitive price, wind power serves as a hedge—an insurance policy, that is—against notoriously volatile fossil-fuel prices, Grimbert noted.

As for other topics that have emerged during the last year and are ripe for discussion in Anaheim, operation & maintenance issues are on the agenda for various sessions. Why is this a particularly hot topic this year? With the industry having built a large number of projects in the last five or so years, entire fleets of turbines are coming off warranty, creating a whole new set of issues to tackle, Owen said. Such advanced fields as turbine condition monitoring are sure to be a hot topic.

Bottom line: get ready to soak it all up. “The conference is just going to be a good stimulus for generating ideas and deciding what new ideas to pursue,” Owen said. “And that will be happening not only in the sessions but, also in interactions on the show floor.”

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