Japanese company rescues Dutch design -- Projects in Taiwan and Finland

A relative newcomer to the wind energy business, Harakosan Co Ltd of Japan, has managed to pick-up a Taiwanese contract for 22 wind turbines, following the collapse earlier in the year of Dutch firm Zephyros, which rose from the ashes of the bankruptcy of Lagerwey two years ago. The two-bladed Lagerwey turbine had considerable success on markets in the Netherlands and Germany in the 1990s.

Harakosan Europe, based in the Netherlands, took over the technology of Zephyros, a developer and manufacturer of a 2 MW direct drive wind turbine, in January. Harakosan was apparently negotiating with Zephyros about licensing opportunities when it became apparent that the company was in difficulty and it could instead acquire the technology.

The Taiwan contract dates back from December 2003, when Luxe Electric Co Ltd of Taiwan, agent for Zephyros turbines on the Taiwanese market, won a tender for delivery of 22, 2 MW Zephyros turbines from the Taiwan Power Company. Harakosan Co Ltd is now the project manager and is working with Luxe Electric to complete the project by April 2006. Four Zephyros turbines have been installed and the first one is being connected to the grid.

Harakosan Europe is responsible for supplying the Zephyros hubs, while ABB is in charge of the generators and electrical conversion equipment. ABB has been closely involved in development of the Zephyros, which, like the German Enercon machine, does not have a gearbox. Assembly takes place in Den Helder in the Netherlands. Other components of the turbine, such as the tower, the nacelle and the rotor, are procured from local suppliers, according to Harakosan. It is also working with Japan Steel Works, which has many years of experience in the wind business.

As well as the Taiwan contract, Harakosan is hoping that it is the main contender for an EU project for three turbines in Finland which was originally started by Zephyros. Before the deal can be closed, permission has to be sought for a change of partner.

Harakosan Europe states that it considers the Benelux countries, France and the UK as its home market and that it aims to establish a worldwide network of franchise partners in a number of key geographical regions, identified as Middle and Eastern Europe, as well as Asia. Franchise partners will be responsible for local sales, installation and maintenance of Harakosan turbines in their respective regions.

Zephyros collapse

The major reasons behind the bankruptcy of Zephyros were being slow to get operational and difficulty keeping up with bills from large component suppliers, says the company's official receiver, Ernst-Paul Pandelitschka. Smaller firms simply cannot afford to pay the larger suppliers' rates, he says. Development costs had run into millions and there was a considerable delay in selling the prototypes. Furthermore, the Taiwan Power Company contract had not been well-calculated and was severely loss-making, losing EUR 1.4 million.

Zephyros formally went bankrupt in January, with debts of more than EUR 17 million. Ironically, the company had also emerged from a bankruptcy, when it was separated from Lagerwey the WindMaster, in April 2003, when shares held in Zephyros by Lagerwey were acquired by Triodos Ventures. Triodos Ventures then held 55% and German equity investment company, BVT Energie und Umwelttechnik, 45%.

Zephyros had operated with several "building block partners," including ABB on generators and electronics, Polymarin doing the rotor blades, and Prolion providing the control system. Zephyros was the holder of the intellectual property rights of the direct drive technology. Polymarin and Prolion failed too.

Pandelitschka says there is still no agreement with Triodos Ventures. The venture capitalist believes it has a claim on the Zephyros technology, but the receiver is hopeful the dispute can be solved without a court case.

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