The arrogance of youth. That's what Andrew Garrad says led him to leave the comfort of the Wind Energy Group, Britain's leading wind turbine company in the mid 1980s, and start a consultancy with friend and colleague Unsal Hassan. "After five years there I had slowly become frustrated because we'd developed the MS2 wind turbine but nobody wanted to sell it. Unsal and I had PhDs, I was good at the mathematical stuff and he was good at measurements so we thought we'd make a perfect partnership."
Andrew Garrad founded Garrad Hassan 25 years ago and, like Windpower Monthly, is fierce about independence and global reach.
The arrogance of youth. That's what Andrew Garrad says led him to leave the comfort of the Wind Energy Group (WEG), Britain's leading wind turbine company in the mid 1980s, and start a consultancy with friend and colleague Unsal Hassan. "I was 30. After five years there I had slowly become frustrated because we'd developed the MS2 wind turbine but nobody wanted to sell it. Unsal and I had PhDs, I was good at the mathematical stuff and he was good at measurements so we thought we'd make a perfect partnership."
They mortgaged their homes, cashed in their pensions and left WEG, then owned by a trio of seriously solid companies that included construction giant Taylor Woodrow and British Aerospace. "It was either bravery or stupidity," says Garrad. The rest is history.
Since then, Garrad Hassan (GH) has acted as the "owner's engineer" for over 30,000 MW of wind projects and carried out energy assessments for over 100,000 MW, over 80% of the world's current wind capacity. It has never owned any part of a turbine or a wind farm. It believes independence is critical to credibility.
Andrew Garrad's eyes sparkle when he talks about the early days. "I am an atheist. The closest I get to a religious experience is making a mathematical model, running it, taking measurements and finding that these agree." In 1984, GH started to develop and test models for validity. Within six months they had designed GH Bladed, turbine software described by Garrad as "a mathematical windmill," and the model that has been commercially successful for 25 years. With no pretence at false modesty, Garrad calls it the industry's standard design tool for simulating the way a wind turbine behaves.
The company's first client was Gifford Technology, which became Vestas Blades UK Ltd in 2004. "Jim Platts (a Gifford owner) sent us 500 quid as a retainer. I didn't know what a retainer was and I told him we hadn't done the work yet. He said never mind, we know you will."
With few private sector clients, much of Garrad Hassan's early income came from government research programs. "There was loads of money around," says Garrad, referring to grants given by the UK's Department of Energy and later the European Commission, the executive arm of what today is the EU. GH competed with universities and won a large share of research and demonstration money, much of it doled out by the commission's DG12 under the supervision of Wolfgang Paltz.
Openness and sharing
In this early phase of wind energy development, only a handful of players were involved, perhaps as few as 35-40 people throughout all of Europe. GH had six employees. "It would have been easy to be cynical about public money," Garrad says. "But we were serious and did our best to fulfil our obligations. And in the process, we learned." This openness and sharing of information, Garrad says, was the best thing about the early years.
For several of its support programs, the European Commission required applications from groups of co-operating companies from three countries. GH was a popular partner and knowledge spread fast. "We were never more than three to six companies," Garrad says. "Today you can find 500 companies on one project."
Much changed with privatisation of the British energy sector. GH shifted its focus from wind turbines to wind farms, but with National Wind Power (headed up by old colleagues from WEG) sweeping 90% of the wind farm contracts, clients were still in short supply. Survival meant moving outside the UK. GH already had some experience with New Zealand, but its first real venture outside Britain was in Spain. "We learned very quickly that working outside the UK wasn't as difficult as we had anticipated, but it was critically important to have employees who lived there and who could speak the national language. By this time, we had all become Europeans."
Garrad has willingly thrown himself into lobbying work for the sector. He is a past chairman of both the British and European Wind Energy Associations and involved in more lobbying efforts than most. "We're not good at the politics," he says, reflecting on the industry's past efforts. "Solar is still four times as expensive as wind, but this is not what bankers or the public think. It's completely bonkers." Garrad says that wind energy attracted a different type of personality than solar. The Danish mentality was agricultural, the German "gear box technical," neither good at public relations. He says another problem wind experienced was "silly ideological arguments" about how to structure markets - whether to subsidise purchase of wind power or whether to set mandatory targets and let prices find their own level.
The wind industry's worst self-inflicted injury, however, has been the sheer pace of technology development, says Garrad. "The good news is that we've developed the world's biggest rotating machines in a very short period of time. The bad news is that we've made too many errors along the way and haven't been careful enough to understand our errors before we went public."
He says that engineers' egos drive technology forward and it was a good thing that, when GE entered the picture in 2002, unlike its competitors, it did not rush to bring bigger turbines to the market, but focused on perfecting the technology it had acquired.
"Here we feel humiliated when we make errors," says Garrad, referring to cultural difference between the West and China. "Because there is a stigma to failure, we hide it. In China, there is no stigma to failure, but instead to inertia and inactivity. If you make an error, you just go and fix it." He regrets the lack of transparency in the new marine renewables. "You've got these people working in secret making the same mistakes. Yes, it's a barrier to progress, but it's unavoidable in a commercial system."
Size is a social issue
What does Garrad now expect from an industry moving out of adolescence and charged with meeting tough targets for green energy? A whole new type of wind turbine for offshore, he says. Today's models are "social turbines," designed to be pleasant to look at and quiet. They are not optimised for efficient generation. Offshore, however, fast moving, noisy rotors will not offend neighbours. Offshore wind turbines of 10 MW and even 15 MW are being discussed, he points out, while another vision is to fit multiple 6 MW rotors onto one structure. Floating wind turbines far out to sea are a serious option, adds Garrad. He foresees offshore turbines constructed so that people can live in them. With maintenance critical, it would be cost-efficient to have someone there all the time.
The industry's next major task is pulling electricity grid networks into shape to carry wind power to where it is needed. Building transmission lines is a job for governments, says Garrad, just as building highways has been. "A year ago, the market was the great god, but no more. It's disingenuous for the public sector to say they are in favour of renewable energy and then not co-operate."
Garrad would like to see more wind scientists, too. He believes academic institutions are developing the appropriate curriculum and is heartened by a recent trip to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in northern California, which has been told to move 25% of its research from weapons to wind energy. "That's a lot of brainpower," he says. "We also need to train technicians - we need both the academic and the practical."
General advances in power electronics are strongly influencing wind industry technology, Garrad says, facilitating wind farms that provide grid support and making full power conversion from variable speed turbines economic. That does away with the need for cost- saving partial power conversion and the complexity of doubly-fed induction generators. Among singly-fed machines, the efficiency and lightweight advantages of permanent magnet generators (PMGs) means Garrad is convinced these will be the new standard within five years. The discovery of large deposits of powerful rare earth magnets in China has contributed to the significant shift to PMGs, he adds.
Garrad returns to politics as one of the big concerns for the future. "This is a political business," he says. "Unless you get the politics right, it won't go anywhere." Garrad believes that privatisation of the power generation business was an impediment to early wind development in the UK. "A Department of Energy that is instructed to put its efforts into R&D will do so if you have a policy and a goal, but first you must have the political will."
Now that Garrad Hassan has set up a policy advisory unit, Garrad has been told to expect a telephone call from one American who needs some first-rate advice on wind power. His name? Barack Obama.
- Lyn Harrison, Windpower Monthly Editor Reporting and Nancy Graham Holm, 25th Special Editor.