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Vestas Supplier NSK Eyes Bigger Share of Wind Bearing Market

NSK Ltd., a supplier of bearings to wind turbine makers such as Vestas Wind Systems A/S and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., is seeking to more than triple its market share as renewable energy use expands.

NSK aims to increase its share of bearings used in the global wind market to 20 percent by the 2017 financial year from 6 percent in 2013, said Masahide Matsubara, an executive vice president at the Tokyo-based company who oversees its industrial machinery business. SKF AB of Sweden and Germany’s Schaeffler AG have bigger shares, according to NSK’s estimates.

As part of its push, NSK is taking part in government-supported projects to improve maintenance technology for wind turbines with the University of Tokyo and other partners, according to Matsubara. NSK will apply the experience learned through the ventures to future offshore projects.

“Power cost is important but development capability is also very important for a bearing maker,” Matsubara said. “It is about how we make our products highly reliable and increase their life-span so there will be no need to replace them.”

Bearings, which are used in a wind turbine’s nacelle to reduce friction, can help increase reliability and efficiency while reducing the cost of operation. A 1.5-megawatt wind turbine typically uses as many as two dozen bearings in a nacelle’s power generator, gearbox and rotor shaft.

“Bearings are a critical component in a wind turbine,” said Yiyi Zhou, a Beijing-based wind analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Bearings could play an important role to enable more cost-effective wind energy generation by reducing capital expenditure for turbines and bringing down recurring operating and maintenance costs, she said by e-mail.

Outlook for 2014

Worldwide wind generating capacity last year totaled 311.5 gigawatts, with most of that coming from onshore turbines, according to data compiled by BNEF.

A rebound in U.S. and Asian markets, plus new markets in Latin America, will drive growth in wind energy equipment demand this year, with some producers estimating installations of as much as 50 gigawatts, compared with 36 gigawatts in 2013, Bloomberg Industries forecast in an outlook for 2014.

In Japan, an incentive program for clean energy has boosted interest in using energy sources such as wind and biomass, though solar accounts for most of the added renewable energy capacity since the program’s introduction in July 2012. Solar power stations can typically be built faster than plants that use wind or geothermal power, which required environmental assessments.

Offshore Potential

NSK is counting on expansion in the Chinese wind market, Matsubara said. Growth in Japan’s wind sector will depend on prospects for the offshore market, he said. The Japanese government is considering setting a higher tariff for offshore wind, compared with onshore developments.

“There are not many onshore sites suitable for wind in Japan, but there are countless locations offshore,” Matsubara said. “We are hoping the market will explode in a smart way.”

NSK’s shares more than doubled last year and on Jan. 15 closed at 1,338 yen, their highest since June 2007. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average gained 57 percent in 2013.

NSK’s shares fell 51 yen, or 4 percent, to 1,189 yen at the close in Tokyo today.

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