Germany's HusumWind exhibition indisputably demonstrated last month that it is the largest and most well visited wind power exhibition in the world -- despite being held largely under canvas on the outskirts of a small seaside town with poor access and a chronic shortage of accommodation. The event, held every other year, has doubled in size since 2001. This year it hosted 520 exhibiting companies, up 10% from 2003, and drew 16,000 visitors over five days during an unseasonably warm and sunny week in late September, up from 14,000 two years ago.
Most exhibitors came from Germany, with 30% from outside, mainly neighbouring countries and eastern Europe. The town of Husum lies just south of Germany's border with Denmark. Evidence of the German government's massive export effort on behalf of the domestic wind industry was seen in the number of foreign delegations, including four from China as well as groups from Sri Lanka, Russia, Canada, Ireland, and South America, says Klaus Lorenz of the HusumWind organisers. A large Chinese power company was also among the exhibitors.
As the wind industry consolidates, it is clearly expanding. Although the number of exhibiting wind turbine producers was down to ten -- seven from Europe, one from the US and two from Asia -- the huge proliferation of component and service suppliers bore witness to the entire industry's rapid growth. From software specialists, consultants and financial service companies, to transport firms and suppliers of components ranging from nuts and bolts to generators, gearboxes, blades and transformers, Husum was a graphic demonstration of the number of companies moving into the wind sector. Unsurprisingly in a country with more than 17,000 MW of installed wind power, the largest group of exhibitors was represented by service and maintenance companies, including condition monitoring. Specialists in electrical interconnection were also much in evidence. Significantly, 20% of all exhibitors came from Germany's manufacturing heartland North Rhine Westfalia.
For those on the hunt for wind turbines, however, there was little joy. All the major manufacturers are reporting full order books. The sudden explosion of the North American market -- which looks as if it will be requiring 4000 MW a year into the foreseeable future -- coming just after a sudden slow down in market growth is more than the industry can ramp up for. Particular bottlenecks are supply of major specialist components, such as the huge gearboxes and bearings that have required rapid development to meet the demands of ever bigger turbines. "The issue is to get the components," said Robert Gleitz, head of GE Energy's wind operation, with particular reference to gearboxes.
For one American developer with cheque book in hand, a visit to Husum confirmed his worst fears -- no wind turbines until 2008. As Fritz Vahrenholt, the head of turbine supplier Repower, expressed it: "Last year was a turbine buyer's market, this year it's a seller's market."
The advantage of an exhibition held under canvas in a large field is that there are few limits to growth. A new marquee, measuring 100 by 50 metres, nearly the size of a soccer pitch, was custom made for the event and was one of three linked to the central hall, a brick and glass structure that has housed HusumWind every other year over the past 18 years.
One of the world's smaller wind turbine companies, Germany's Repower Systems took centre-stage in the main hall with an impressive three-storey structure designed to illustrate the huge dimensions of its 5 MW machine, the prototype of which is operating near Brunsbüttel. Despite company restructuring and wage reductions for the around 300 employees in turbine production in Husum, Repower's chairman Fritz Vahrenholt saw no contradiction in spending some ¤350,000 on the company's presence. "Repower wants to demonstrate presence and its importance to the local economy," he said.
Clustered around Repower were GE Energy, Vestas, Gamesa, a modest Enercon tucked away in a corner, and a number of wind project development and other companies. Nordex, a traditional exhibitor in the main hall, found itself relegated to a stand under canvas, but was in good company with the wind division of Siemens Power Generation, at a good distance from arch rival GE. Perhaps the most eye-catching stand was that of Denmark's Svendborg Brakes. Its desert scene theme reminiscent of Indian Jones' films featured a dilapidated, neglected filling station, a clear indication of where it believes the oil industry was headed. Another eye-catching display was mounted by Skylotec of Neuwied. Its dummy male torsos dressed in worker safety equipment bore a certain affinity to the window displays of retailers or erotica.
The continuing decline of the German wind market is not initially expected to dampen HusumWind's fortunes. "We could get up to 600 exhibitors in 2007," said Lorenz, pinning his hopes on attracting more foreign companies. Procedures are underway to get HusumWind certified as an international trade fair by the US Commercial Services which would result in stronger promotion of the trade fair in the US.
Despite reservations about hotel availability and the lack of access to the venue (the nearest international airport is Hamburg, one hour away), the industry clearly considers HusumWind an event worth supporting. "When I was driving north from Hamburg I thought I was coming to the end of the world, said Cor Buscop of Dutch transport company VD Vlist, whose wind division delivers new and second-hand turbines all over Europe at the rate of ten to 15 trucks a week. "But you meet a lot of people here in a very short time," he added.
Representatives at the stand of China's state-owned China Datang Corporation came to HusumWind to meet people in the wind industry and learn about the sector to prepare for installing at least 1 GW of wind power in China by the end of 2010. From Beijing, Datang engineer Li Zhang was unperturbed by her stay in a Schleswig-Holstein holiday park, 20 minutes drive away for the duration of the fair. "We like to do our own cooking," she said. "And it's nice to see the horses and sheep."
While the trade fair was a hive of activity, HusumWind's wind energy symposium failed to draw the crowds. Held in its usual venue, an elegantly converted car showroom, the 15 minute shuttle bus proved a drawback. Simultaneous German-English translation was provided, but the fair largely dealt with domestic market problems, or brought Germans up to date with international activities. Topics covered were maintenance and condition monitoring of the growing German wind energy fleet, innovative developments and financing. Average attendance was 50-60, but numbers grew to over 100 for sessions on real estate and wind energy taxation in France and Poland. A careers day on Saturday proved most popular, with some 300 people attending, says Katja Rosenburg of Kromrey Kommunikation, the symposium organiser.