Northern Power Systems Aims for Large-Scale Wind Turbine Market, Taking on Industry Giants

6/10/09

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the Midwest where it will produce the 2.2-megawatt turbines. (Danner says the company will continue to make the 100-kilowatt turbines in Vermont.) And the firm in May announced its had recruited Troy Patten, a former executive at Danish wind turbine maker Vestas, to be its president of utility-scale turbines.

While the utility-scale turbine market is huge, the competition is also immense. The major players in the market include industry giants such as General Electric, Mitsubishi, and Siemens. Also, Northern Power isn’t the only firm that aims to make turbines more durable and efficient than current systems. Germany’s Enercon, which is considered a luxury brand in wind turbines, is also making direct-drive turbines that do not use troublesome gearboxes. (Still, Northern Power notes that Enercon’s design lacks permanent magnet generators.)

Northern Power plans to initially deploy prototypes of its 2.2-megawatt turbines that it hopes will provide enough evidence of superior performance to spark actual sales of the systems.

“The question for the company clearly is how long do you have to fly the prototype units and how many prototype units will you have to fly in order to go to the next step in terms of an order for five to 10 of these machines,” says Alexander “Hap” Ellis, a general partner at RockPort Capital and a director of Northern Power. He adds that the company is getting closer to answering those questions. In the meantime, Northern Power plans to increase revenue from its sales of 100-kilowatt turbines.

There were several of the 100-kilowatt turbines at various stages of production at the company’s 110,000-square-foot facility in Barre last week. (The facility, in fact, housed production of Amtrak Acela railcars through 2004.) Though he wouldn’t provide exact figures, Danner says that the company has produced more of those turbines in the past 12 months than it had in the previous eight years. And the company is scaling up manufacturing to be able to produce one turbine per day by the end of this year.

The expansion of Northern Power and its capacity to churn out wind turbines is coinciding nicely with increased demand for the technology. Global demand for wind energy is expected to grow from $27.6 billion in 2007 to $34.7 billion in 2012, driven mostly by the need for non-polluting sources of electricity and in some cases to meet public mandates, according to The Freedonia Group, a market research firm based in Cleveland.

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