Michaela D. Platzer Specialist in Industrial Organization and
Increasing U.S. energy supply diversity has been the goal of many
Presidents and Congresses. This commitment has been prompted by concerns
about national security, the environment, and the U.S. balance of payments.
Investments in new energy sources also have been seen as a way to expand
domestic manufacturing. For all of these reasons, the federal government has a
variety of policies to promote wind power.
Expanding the use of wind energy requires installation of wind turbines. These
are complex machines composed of some 8,000 components, created from basic
industrial materials such as steel, aluminum, concrete, and fiberglass.
Major components in a wind turbine include the rotor blades, a nacelle and
controls (the heart and brain of a wind turbine), a tower, and other parts such as
large bearings, transformers, gearboxes, and generators. Turbine manufacturing
involves an extensive supply chain. Until recently, Europe has been the
hub for turbine production, supported by national renewable energy
deployment policies in countries such as Denmark, Germany, and Spain.
However, support for renewable energy including wind power has begun to wane
across Europe as governments there reduce or remove some subsidies. Competitive
wind turbine manufacturing sectors are also located in India and Japan and
are emerging in China and South Korea.
U.S. and foreign manufacturers have expanded their capacity in the United
States to assemble and produce wind turbines and components. About 470
U.S. manufacturing facilities produced wind turbines and components in
2011, up from as few as 30 in 2004. An estimated 30,000 U.S. workers were
employed in the manufacturing of wind turbines in 2011. Because turbine blades, towers,
and certain other components are large and difficult to transport,
manufacturing clusters have developed in certain states, notably Colorado,
Iowa, and Texas, which offer proximity to the best locations for wind
energy production. The U.S. wind turbine manufacturing industry also depends
on imports, with the majority coming from European countries, where the
technical ability to produce large wind turbines was developed. Although
turbine manufacturers’ supply chains are global, recent investments are
estimated to have raised the share of parts manufactured in the United
States to 67% in 2011, up from 35% in 2005-2006.
The outlook for wind turbine manufacturing in the United States is more
uncertain now than in recent years. For the past two decades, a variety of
federal laws and state policies have encouraged both wind energy
production and the use of U.S.-made equipment to generate that energy. A
continuing challenge for the industry is uncertainty about one main federal
policy tool in the deployment of wind power, the production tax credit
(PTC), which Congress has extended eight times and let lapse on four
occasions. Most recently, the PTC expired at the end of 2012, but a few
days later, Congress extended it through year-end 2013. At least a dozen wind
turbine manufacturers announced layoffs or hiring freezes at U.S.
facilities in 2012, citing concern about the PTC’s future as one reason.
Other factors affecting the health of the U.S. wind industry are intense
price competition from natural gas, an oversupply in wind turbines, and
softening demand for renewable electricity. .
Date of Report: January 9, 2013
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