American Superconductor Scores Huge Contract with Chinese Wind Turbine Manufacturer

While New England boasts a home-grown cluster of cleantech and green energy startups, the region is also becoming a major supplier of infrastructure and equipment for green energy projects around the world. In April, Merrimack, NH-based GT Solar won a $91 million contract to supply Dutch photovoltaic manufacturer The Silicon Mine with reactors needed to make solar panels. And today American Superconductor of Devens, MA, announced an even bigger win—a $450 million contract to make power converters that Beijing-based Sinovel Wind Corporation will use to build wind farms that will almost double China’s wind power capacity by 2011.

American Superconductor (NASDAQ: AMSC) is mainly known for building high-temperature superconductor cables, which conduct electricity with zero resistance and are being used in locations like New York City to supplement overburdened copper wires and create more reliable interconnections between sections of the power grid. But the company has also developed software-controlled power converters that can be used to regulate the voltage of power from generating sources such as wind turbines so that they can be safely connected to the larger power grid. The converters can also control the pitch of wind turbine blades to maximize efficiency in different wind conditions.

Starting in January, American Semiconductor will ship power converters to Sinovel for installation in hundreds of 1.5-megawatt wind turbines that will be erected around China. “The core electrical components covered under this contract will be used to support more than 10 gigawatts of wind power capacity, nearly double China’s total wind power installed base at the end of 2007,” Greg Yurek, American Semiconductor’s founder and CEO, said in a statement about the contract. “It is invigorating to see Sinovel’s success in bringing much needed electrical generation capacity to the Chinese power market at a crucial time in that country’s expansion.”

Greenpeace, the Global Wind Energy Council, and the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association issued a report last year predicting that China will have an installed wind-power base exceeding 120 gigawatts by 2020. For comparison, the United States has a total installed generating capacity—from all power sources—-of just over 1,000 gigawatts.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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