The U.S. added more new wind energy capacity in 2010 - about 5,100 MW - than any other country except China. Current forecasts are for a similar level of new infrastructure construction in 2011.
Yet take a look at the stock market and you see that the U.S. wind industry is in something of a slump.
A primary reason is that investment in new infrastructure has slowed substantially, with financing often hard to come by. There are doubts about future levels of government support for the industry. Meanwhile, cheap natural gas makes returns from an investment in wind energy less attractive than previously.
So it is true that some wind companies have not been doing well. Fewer new projects are appearing. Some projects have been delayed. Intense competition in the wind turbine industry means that prices - and in some cases profits - are dropping. Yet amidst the gloom, some wind energy stocks are doing well. Here are three of them.
Broadwind Energy (BWEN): This Illinois company makes wind towers and wind turbine gearing systems. It is also developing a business in servicing existing wind projects.
I have written previously about Broadwind Energy, and noted that the company has been gaining market share in wind turbines thanks to some heavy capital spending that has boosted its capacity. In particular, it has been working to ready itself for the shift from 1.5 MW turbines to 2.0 MW units.
So it was pleasing to see in the company's March 2011 first-quarter accounts that wind tower sales of $28.2 million were more than double the $12.0 million figure for March 2010, and the business moved from loss to profit. For comparison, another listed wind tower manufacturer, Otter Tail (OTTR), reported that in its March 2011 quarter, it saw wind tower sales of $47.0 million, up from $40.9 million in March 2010.
At Trinity Industries (TRN) wind tower sales rose from $55.0 million in the March 2010 quarter to $66.5 million in March 2011. Broadwind also claims to be gaining market share in its gearing business, with March 2011 sales of $13.6 million, compared to $7.7 million in March 2010 (though not all sales are to wind customers, and this business remained in the red).
Revenues for the wind servicing business dipped from $2.0 million to $1.8 million.
Potential investors should be aware that Broadwind took the market by surprise in March 2010 when it revealed a goodwill and impairment charge of $82.2 million. This led to a big sell-off in the shares and has generated some class action lawsuits against the company.
Woodward (WWD): A long established company, Colorado-based Woodward is a leader in the design and production of fuel, combustion, fluid, actuation and electronic control systems. Around half of all sales are to the aerospace industry, with the remainder to the energy sector. It is also a prominent supplier of energy converters for wind power generation, and has sold more than 8,000 of its Concycle converters. Wind turbine manufacturers REpower and Nordex Energy are among its prominent customers. It also supplies control systems to the wind sector. It is actively developing converters for wind turbines with a range of up to 6.0 MW, with both onshore and offshore application. It is also benefiting from the Chinese wind energy boom, with growing sales there.
In its March 2011 half-yearly accounts, the company reported that electrical power system sales (excluding inter-segment sales) rose to $105.4 million, from $92.5 million in March 2010. The company does not break down this segment into wind and non-wind sales. However, it reported that wind turbine converter sales increased as a result of increased market share, primarily in China and Germany, and an increase in demand from existing wind turbine converter customers.
Zoltek Companies (ZOLT): This Missouri company specializes in the development and production of carbon fibers for a wide variety of industrial applications. In the wind energy sector it sells its carbon fiber as a primary reinforcing material for wind turbine blades.
Carbon fiber has replaced glass fiber in the new generation of wind turbine blades that are up to 150 feet in length. New carbon fiber-reinforced blades often weigh no more than glass fiber-reinforced blades, yet can be twice as long and deliver four times the power.
Zoltek supplies turbine manufacturers around the world, with a growing presence in China, India and South Korea.
In the year to September 2009 Danish turbine giant Vestas (VWDRY.PK) was Zoltek's main customer, accounting for 53.6% of total company sales. However, a big restructuring at Vestas during 2010 meant that this figure dropped to 38.6% in the September 2010 year. The large Spanish turbine manufacturer Gamesa (GCTAF.PK) is another prominent customer.
In anticipation of big increases in demand from the wind industry, in the two years to September 2008, Zoltek doubled its carbon fiber production capacity. However, it was then hit by a slowdown in the industry, which also coincided with reduced demand from the company's aerospace customers.
Yet its March 2011 half-yearly results showed the start of a recovery, with carbon fiber sales rising to $55.2 million, from $43.6 million in the six months to March 2010.
The company reported that its larger wind energy customers have "begun to trend back to normal long-term growth levels," and it has said it expects wind energy to be its largest and fastest growing market with sustained growth for at least the coming decade.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.