June 3, 2011 | Leadership

It had been 10 years since I had attended AWEA’s annual conference, Windpower.  My memories of Windpower 2001 in Washington DC include meeting with then Representative Bernie Sanders, an exhibition area in the basement of the hotel, lines of people waiting to talk at our booth, and the budding excitement of an industry that was really starting to catch fire.  It reminded me of the famous line from the movie, JAWS: “we’re going to need a bigger boat.”

The Wind Industry Today

Flash forward 10 years and the wind industry has built a bigger boat. At Windpower 2011 there were 15,000 attendees and 2000 exhibitors, from climbing harness makers to Union Pacific railroad. The inadequate supply chain that once held back the industry is in place. While the US wind market has been surpassed by China and is no longer as hot as it used to be, the breadth and commitment of many companies to wind power is striking. The industry has scaled up and now it is policy uncertainty and permit siting issues that hold things back. I believe these obstacles can be resolved in the short term.

Two out of 144 Stories

My purpose for attending Windpower 2011 was to give a case study presentation on exporting as part of a panel on export opportunities for the US wind industry. After being an audience member in countless sessions, I found it was a great experience to be on the flip side as a presenter. I chose a pair of unusual export sales NRG Systems made: Kiribati and Mongolia, -- two of the 144 countries to which NRG Systems has exported our products.

The Story Outline

Keeping in mind that I was dealing with a general audience who might be thinking in terms of their own company, I focused on the “who” and the “how” of these two export stories. Who is needed to make an export sale? The answer is, “more than just a buyer.” Many of our export sales involve more parties than you might think: customer, installer, international partner, consultant, freight forwarder, etc. I advocated for choosing a freight forwarder based on deep experience and best service, rather than lowest price. NRG Systems has decade long relationships with our ocean and air forwarders. We think that their service gives us and our customers a competitive edge. We offer sea-freight shipping to 80 major ports around the world…and we offer it as a free service.

Under the how, I made the point that it is too easy to get lost in the details of designing your product and how it operates, until you lose sight of your international customer. You want to take a step back and look at the whole product lifecycle, because that will be how your customer experiences your product. I shared the NRG Systems’ story of redesigning our 60-meter tower system by not only making the tower stronger, but by reinventing the packaging. The new packaging, dubbed the EnviroCrate® packaging system, made the tower stackable, allowing us to fit more systems in a shipping container and eliminated cardboard. Removing the cardboard lowered our costs, reduced production time, lowered shipping weight, improved the appearance on arrival and eliminated the chance for small pieces to fall out of damaged boxes.  A win-win for NRG Systems and our customer.

Export Opportunities are Win-Win

Win-win is how we have come to view export opportunities in the wind industry. Consistent attention to the who and how of an international trade transaction offers a win for your company and your customer. And during times like these when the wind energy market has slowed in the US, it remains exciting to guide the bigger boat we have built together toward an expanding international market.

Patrick Strom is the sales account manager for emerging markets at NRG Systems. He has a passion for travel, especially to far-flung places or to the birthplace of wind power, Denmark.