Wind technology under Finnish control -- ABB reshuffles renewables

The year long restructuring of ABB, which describes itself as a global power and automation technology group, has not stopped short of its fledgling wind business. The giant company's wind project management has been moved from Switzerland to Germany, while the development of two separate types of generator technology for use in offshore wind turbines is continuing from bases in Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The Finnish end is now in charge of further development of Windformer, ABB's much hyped generator and power conversion technology which it claims can significantly cut the costs of offshore wind power (Windpower Monthly, April 2001) Windformer is a daughter of ABB's Powerformer generator system, though this technology was recently sold to global competitor Alstom along with ABB's large generator business.

The aim of Windformer is to generate grid quality DC power, thus doing away with the need for step-up transformers between a wind plant and the electricity network. Coupled with the use of ABB's light duty, high voltage DC transmission cable (HVDC Light), the company expects this will cut the costs of generating large amounts of wind power and transmitting it over long distances, says Volker Biewendt from ABB's base in Mannheim, Germany. Windformer and HVDC Light in combination are being considered for wind developments requiring long distance transmission at an affordable cost, adds Biewendt.

Windformer was previously being developed at ABB Sweden in Vasteros, about 100 kilometres south of Stockholm, under the responsibility of ABB Renewable Energies in Zurich. That responsibility has now been moved to ABB Generator at Vaasa in Finland, although the development work continues in Sweden, at least for the time being. The generator technology is being tested in a 3 MW turbine being built by Swedish Scanwind (Windpower Monthly, November). "If it performs as expected the technology will be marketed to other manufacturers," says Biewendt.

And in Holland

In the Netherlands ABB is providing the generator system for Zephyros, though not the Windformer. Zephyros is a new wind turbine being developed by a group of seven companies headed by Dutch wind turbine manufacturer Lagerwey. Again for offshore use, the pitch controlled direct-drive Zephyros will have three blades and a permanent magnet generator, like the Scanwind. The machine's rating will range from 1.5 MW to 2 MW. Output of 3 kV rather than 690 V has been chosen "to allow the use of one inverter system for more than one turbine and improve grid connection potential," according to part-owner Lagerwey.

Lagerwey's Bart van Neerbos, who works on the Zephyros, says the company's relationship with ABB is unchanged by the recent re-organisation. "We are just a client of ABB, but we have a very preferred position as a customer and we are effectively using each other to develop the technology," he says.

Work on the Zephyros has been delayed by problems with casting the nacelle, which has necessitated a redesign. "But it should be up and running by the end of January," says Van Neerbos. "Back to back tests in Helsinki of the two generators working with the inverters gave very positive results." Two ABB companies are participants in the design consortium -- ABB Synchronous Machines, which developed the generator, and ABB Automation Group for the converter. Zephyros is owned 45% each by German renewables company BVT Energie and Lagerwey, with the Dutch Triodos bank holding a 10% stake.

Also in the Netherlands, ABB is part of a consortium aiming to develop near shore and offshore wind plant off the Dutch coast. Since ABB is only supplying the undersea cabling and high voltage systems, its involvement is not affected by the company changes, says Mathieu Kortenoever of E-Connection, a participant in the consortium along with Vestas.

New renewables boss

The move of ABB Renewable Energies -- a business unit under ABB's New Ventures division set up earlier this year -- to Germany has only just been made, according to Biewendt. Previously the renewables unit was based in Zurich and headed by Stephen Burgin -- until he left the ABB Group in October, reportedly to take up a position at Alstom. After his departure, Renewable Energies has been moved to Mannheim to be headed by Ilka Schaech. She leads a team of about 40 people, who work mainly on wind project development. They are now branching out into biomass and solar energies. The Mannheim team is supported by small teams of up to four people in Italy, Spain, Sweden, Greece and China.

Meantime, ABB has applied for planning permission to erect 17 wind turbines, each with a capacity of 2- 2.5-MW, on the island of Harvungon in Korsnas, Finland. The company has continually stressed it is not intending to become a wind turbine manufacturer, leaving the identity of these turbines a mystery for the time being.

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