Heavy Demand for Wind Power Exposes Weak Links in Supply Chain

Michael Giberson

In the booming business of building wind power systems, manufacturers have found a number of critical components to be hard to find. From Renewable Energy World magazine:

In recent years component shortages have occurred in a number of key supply chain areas including single main bearings, gearboxes, generators, main shafts, control cabinets, and complex castings such as hubs and mainframes. Larger bearings in particular ,,, are quoted as being in short supply at the moment. According to wind industry sources, the shortage situation is unlikely to be fully resolved within the next two or perhaps even three years.

Bearings can be found in gearboxes, generators, cooling systems, blade pitch and yaw systems, and rotor support systems among a number of major and heavy-duty wind turbine applications. However, bearings in a wide range of sizes and with specific design characteristics are applied in all kinds of rotating machinery and in multiple industries. The wind industry therefore has to compete with other booming sectors and applications such as agriculture, ship propulsion, rotating equipment for power stations, transportation, and mining machinery.

An interesting economic issue here concerns the ultimate distribution of subsidies available to wind power developers. While in political debates the wind power developers are typically treated as the subsidy recipient — especially if the developers are from out-of-state — obviously much of the subsidy ends up in other hands. In the short run, manufacturers with existing supply capability now in excess demand will capture some rents. In the long run, as an old fashioned Ricardian rent story would have it, property owners controlling the best wind supply sites would capture the subsidy.