This working paper maps out the structure and value chains of the wind power industry, analyzes its increasing globalization via cross-border trade and investment flows, and formulates recommendations for policymakers for the design of investment and trade policies to help realize wind energy's potential.

Key Findings

  1. Local demand creation draws in local production. Demand for wind energy through long-term government support policies creates the basis for local supply of wind capital equipment and services and associated local job creation; policies that put a price on carbon will further help to make wind more competitive and increase the overall demand for turbines and equipment.

  2. Cross-border investment rather than trade is the dominant mode of global integration. Standard international trade in wind energy equipment is relatively small and declining. Instead, foreign direct investment (FDI) flows dominate the global integration of the wind sector, and the cost structure of the wind industry favors the emergence of regional production hubs in markets of sufficient size.

  3. Abolishing trade tariffs will have limited effects on the wind industry. Principal barriers to global integration are not at-the-border tariffs but rather several nontariff trade barriers and formal and informal barriers that distort firms’ investment decisions.

  4. Intellectual property rights (IPRs) are currently not restricting firms’ access to wind power equipment markets. Intellectual property plays only a very limited role in the cost structures of the wind industry, and technology is widely available for licensing. IPRs therefore cannot be considered a major impediment for market participation for firms from both developed and developing countries.

  5. A highly globalized wind industry will create jobs locally. Wind energy is a generally more labor-intensive source of electricity supply compared with fossil fuel generation. Due to its specific characteristics, a globalized wind industry will still create lasting and highly localized employment opportunities.

Executive Summary

The political debate concerning climate change and global trade and investment flows has increasingly taken on a defensive posture in the United States and other developed countries. The spotlight has been on the competitiveness of energy-intensive industries and potential border adjustment mechanisms to prevent carbon leakage, as well as on the need to grow and protect industries that will gain from a low-carbon future and create millions of new “green jobs” at home.

This paper analyzes the global wind power industry in light of the latter debate and shows that global integration—broadly defined as increasing cross-border trade and investment flows —can make a strong positive contribution in the form of green technology cost reductions and innovation while still creating predominantly local jobs. As such, national trade and investment policies that promote increased global integration of the wind industry are a powerful ally in the fight against climate change.

Our analysis starts with a brief summary of current and future global demand for wind turbines and the role of government support in this demand picture. Next, we show how the wind energy sector is developing into a truly global industry characterized by high levels of growth and competition and how this process is increasingly driven by cross-border investment rather than trade. Then we map out the globalization potential of different components in the value chain and analyze existing barriers to further global integration. Finally, we discuss the distributional consequences of greater globalization and especially the outlook for green job creation along the wind value chain, before we conclude with a set of policy recommendations.