Eluding the variable speed patent -- Getting set for US sales

EU Energy, the new UK owner of turbine manufacturer DeWind, has concluded a joint co-operation agreement with Voith Turbo of Germany for the development of a technological fix to allow DeWind turbines to be sold in the North American market. The Voith WinDrive is designed to circumvent a patent held by GE Energy otherwise preventing DeWind turbines from being sold into the US and Canada.

The patent, which concerns power conversion from variable speed wind turbines, came into GE's hands when it bought Enron's wind division. Enron acquired the patent with its purchase of Kenetech Windpower. The patent successfully kept German company Enercon, which hotly disputed the ruling's legality in the American courts, out of the North American market.

Unlike GE's electronic system, the WinDrive is a mechanical means of converting power from the varying speed of the blades into a fixed speed to drive the generator, similar to automatic gearboxes in cars. Under its agreement with Voith, EU Energy is granted exclusive use of the WinDrive units up to 2.6 MW and running at 60 Hz until 2013. EU Energy, which has recently opened an office in Texas, says it expects the agreement to result in an extremely competitive DeWind product for the American market.

EU Energy completed its purchase of DeWind from former owner British group FKI plc in July. Before its ownership by FKI, DeWind was a privately owned German company. Ironically, EU Energy now subcontracts FKI to build DeWind turbines at FKI's works in Loughborough.

China licence

According to EU Energy's director of European operations Jörg Kubitza, the small group is reviewing the wind turbine business, including the "markets and structures." It may, for example, expand its independent turbine service to cover all turbine types -- not just DeWind, he says. Layla Porter from the UK office, based in Milton Keynes, adds: "The business plan is still being sorted out; we are taking it step by step."

In September, however, EU Energy signed an accord with Beizhong Steam Turbine Generator Co Ltd (BSTG) of Beijing, China, allowing BSTG to manufacture the DeWind D8 2 MW turbine under license. The company claims that BSTG's access to wind farm projects in China will ensure that DeWind technology plays an important role in meeting the enormous demand in the fast expanding Chinese market.

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