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GE and Siemens Outpacing Wind Pioneers, Becoming Clean Energy’s “New Oligopoly”

Say goodbye to the mom-and-pop wind power operation. With giants like Siemens and General Electric edging out smaller companies the new energy oligopoly looks much like the old one.

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As the wind power market grows, larger players are edging out the smaller ones, reports Spiegel Online. Dedicated wind energy companies like Vestas and Enercon are struggling to keep up, while giants like General Electric and Siemens swoop in. “There is a risk of a new oligopoly,” cautioned German Wind Energy Association’s Ulf Gerder.

In April, the Danish wind power company Vestas announced it was ending operations in Britain, moving instead to the U.S., where the market is less developed. Just last week, German energy giant Siemens announced its intention to build its business in Britain–making a 90 million Euro investment there. “The classic wind energy companies are finding it hard to keep up,” Holger Fechner, an analyst at NordLB bank, told Spiegel Online. Though Vestas has 12.5 percent of the wind market for the time being (having dropped from 28% a few years ago), General Electric is poised to overtake it soon (it’s now trailing by just 0.1 percent).

As Europe invests in larger offshore wind projects–the world’s biggest such project, Thanet, just started operations in U.K. waters in September–stakeholders feel more comfortable signing on with giant firms, who have a record of high-stakes financing. It’s a simple equation: In Fechner’s words, “The bigger the company, the more security there is for the project.”

In a situation like this, with major companies on the heels of smaller ones who were there first, we might expect to see buyouts. But Spiegel Online‘s sources say this isn’t so. “The European wind sector has its consolidation phase behind it,” said Gerder. And a Siemens employee said that the company was mainly interested in growing “organically,” at this point.

It will have to do so without infringing upon any of Vestas’s patented technology. Michael Andri of the blog The Wind Machine looked at Vestas’s patent strategy in 2008, noting that the company had by then filed 118 international patent applications. Still, Andri mused that “For an international business that is nearly 30 years old, it is surprising that Vestas has only recently begun to develop its intellectual property portfolio. If Vestas truly is a leader in the rapidly developing wind energy
market, it is even more essential for the company to aggressively defend
its innovation.” It takes a while for Goliath to turn around, and once it does, David better have taken good aim.

Vestas’s earnest motto is “Wind. It means the world to us.”

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[Image: Flickr user therussiansarehere]

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal

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