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Of course my view is a bit jaundiced, coming from so long in the energy industry.  Europe absolutely leads in renewable energy, there's no comparison there.  There are only two wind turbine manufacturers in the US.  Clipper Wind, which has had a very problematic product introduction, doesn't come close to even the second tier European manufacturers such as REpower or Nordex in sales or revenue.  GE's wind division is of course a US company, and they have been the market leaders in the US nearly since turbine introduction.  But the turbine is designed and supported by the European design and engineering team, resulting from their purchase of a German company, Tacke.  Further, their new 2.5 MW machine is completely designed by the European team, and only available for sales here in Europe.

The solar industry also has European companies at the foundation, though Japan ranks as high as Germany, and China is expanding voraciously.  The salient fact in all this is that innovation alone doesn't cut it, one also has to build markets, and there the EU has shone.

It is European utilities like EdF, EdP (Portugal), E.on, Scottish and Southern, Endesa and others who are currently storming around making the innovation purchases in both technologies and projects, as well as taking control of greater parts of international grids.

The amurkan "lead" in information techologies is partly true, partly hype.  Much of the US investment in 90's IT went to a fantasy of the Web, while at the same time the steel industry collapsed, and manufacturing went elsewhere (though partly owned by US companies; partly means there is now also part local ownership.)  Across the pond, manufacturing continues in the EU, and is growing strongly, particularly in the eastern countries.

While much of heavy industry has moved to China, India and Korea, there are quality issues which allow a premium on higher cost EU manufacturers.  So I don't see the EU losing out there either.  The Chinese windpower industry has been exploding for several years, and there are now players whose installations begin to match 2nd tier EU companies.  But their turbines don't work yet, even when partnered with top EU companies, simply because they can't reach EU quality standards.  For industrial equipment, that's important.

One example outside of windpower: a local German company, Barmag, was a global leader in their field, making huge profits in China as well as their fabric winding machines were the centerpiece of the explosion of Chinese clothing manufacturing.  They went nearly bankrupt (or did they go bankrupt?) when the Chinese reverse engineered their machines cheaply.  Two factors resurrected the company:  one, it was eventually learned that you don't make a profit if the machines keep breaking, so quality counts; and two, they have innovated fabric winding machines for other technologies.

I don't dispute that entrepreneurship may well be a bit harder in the EU (from my own experience) but i also believe it is overplayed in the US today, a mythical relic from previous times when it was true.  The framework of the amurkan economy sets the stage, and one only has to look at the difference in products between US and other global auto manufacturers to see that the US badly missed the boat, because the US market prevented them from seeing the real market of the rest of the world.

On the R&D side in windpower, while i personally know many of the top NREL execs and engineers, and they do great work, it doesn't compare to what's done here.  They simply don't have the long term experience or infrastructure on which to build an R&D program.  (With the explosion of the US wind market, that is changing, but it will take some years of stable growth, which remains unsure, before the US begins to reach parity with EU research.

As an example of where infrastructure makes a difference in windpower, the EU has already pioneered huge R&D projects partnering the top labs and companies, to the level of some 60 or 70 concerns participating in the latest round.  These R&D projects are already based upon several years of major discussions which refined where the emphasis should be, and then they designed the R&D to meet the goals.  The R&D platform was based upon what the existing market and infrastructure demanded.  The US, without enough infrastructure to know what's necessary, is still playing catch-up.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sat Jun 28th, 2008 at 02:55:06 PM EST
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