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GE Leads U.S. Wind Market But Faces More Competition

General Electric Co. installed more wind turbine capacity than rivals in the U.S. last year, but faces new competition from Asian companies, according to a report from the Washington, D.C.-based American Wind Energy Association, scheduled for release Thursday.

GE installed nearly 4 gigawatts, or 40% of new U.S. wind turbine capacity in 2009, up from 3.7 gigawatts in 2008, the report said. GE sold roughly $6 billion of wind turbines worldwide in 2009, company executives say.

Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems A/S, Germany’s Siemens AG and India’s Suzlon Energy Ltd. ranked second, third and fourth in new capacity in the U.S. last year, the report said.

Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. moved to fifth with 751 megawatts of new capacity, from seventh place in 2008. China’s Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology dipped its toe into the U.S. market in 2009, installing three turbines that generate five megawatts of electricity.

Competition has been heating up in the U.S. wind market. In the U.S., which has the largest installed base of wind power of any country, 15 companies sold large-scale wind turbines in 2009, up from five companies in 2005, according to the report.

In February, GE filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Dallas, alleging that Mitsubishi is infringing on several of its 148 U.S. patents related to wind energy; at the time, Mitsubishi said it didn’t believe it was infringing on GE patents. Mitsubishi has also said it is considering plans to open a $100 million manufacturing plant in Arkansas in 2011.

The AWEA report noted that 14 U.S. states now have more than one gigawatt of power coming from wind power, up from seven states in 2008. Iowa has 15% of its energy generated by renewable energy sources including wind.

“Iowa’s obviously in the lead,” said Liz Salerno, research director for AWEA, noting Iowa passed legislation favorable to wind turbine manufacturing and use and has recruited companies to invest and set up shop.

Worldwide wind capacity grew by 38 gigawatts in 2009, or 30%, according to BTM Consult. China became the top market for wind power last year, installing 13,750 megawatts of new wind turbine capacity in 2009, doubling from the 6,246 megawatts it installed in 2008, according to Danish research firm BTM Consult.

Chinese wind turbine makers including Sinovel Wind, Xinjiang Goldwind and Dongfang Electric-buoyed by China’s national spending on wind energy-grew rapidly and took market share from world leaders such as Vestas and GE, analysts say.

Worldwide, Vestas added the most capacity last year, with 12.5% of the megawatts installed in 2009, followed closely by GE, with 12.4% globally. But both firms saw their global share of new capacity fall from 2008 when Vestas had 19.8% and GE had 18.5%, the BTM report said.

“There are certainly some looming competitive threats out there for the incumbents,” said John Hardy, an clean technology analyst at Broadpoint Gleacher in Greenwich, Conn. “The major challenge is the threat of low cost competition.”

Three Chinese wind power makers now rank among the top 10 wind turbine producers globally and advanced their positions. Most of the top 10 firms didn’t respond to requests for comment. A GE spokesman said, “Our goal is to be the leading global provider of onshore and offshore wind technology.”

China’s Sinovel advanced to third place with 9.2% share of new capacity, up from seventh place and 5% share in 2008. China’s Goldwind moved to fifth place with 7.2% share up from ninth place with 4% share in 2008. Dongfang moved to seventh place with 6.5% share in 2009, into the top 10 for the first time.