Local industry start in Quebec -- Building small scale expertise

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While large wind turbine manufacturers and developers work out their strategies for meeting local content demands in Hydro-Quebec's recent 1000 MW request for proposals, Quebec's budding small turbine sector is helping lay the groundwork for the kind of sustainable industrial base the province is seeking, says the vice president of a company involved in the development of a Quebec built machine.

ATI-Wind is an offshoot of the University of Quebec at Rimouski (UQAR), created to commercialise some of the technological research done by the school's wind group. ATI has patented the power electronics regulation system used in the turbine, which is available in 22 kW and 35 kW configurations. The company is also working with PGI, the turbine's manufacturer, to market and develop turnkey wind projects using the machines.

The two companies have orders to deliver four turbines by the end of this year and five next year, including projects in Tunisia, where the turbine will provide power to a school, a small medical dispensary and a local mosque. From Senegal, turbines will be used in two rural electrification pilot projects, says ATI's Jean-Louis Chaumel.

In Canada, in addition to several industrial and remote applications, the turbine will be on display at the Montreal Science Centre as part of a hybrid wind and solar plant designed to demonstrate the capability of renewable technologies, while at the same time supplying electricity to the building.

Global market

While the global small turbine market has not been large, says Chaumel, he believes it is poised for significant growth as interest in wind power increases. In fact, he says, the challenge will be to keep up with market demand. Responding to that demand will not only involve supplying turbines, but designing projects to meet the specific needs of a wide range of customers, including businesses and farmers looking to trim power bills, net metering arrangements, and isolated off-grid villages interested in a non-polluting source of electricity. Manufacturing capacity is likely to be the only bottleneck, he says.

PGI, which is primarily a plastics injection moulding company with a production facility in the eastern Quebec community of Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, began work on the turbine design in the late 1990s. At the time, company president Francois Gagnon was in the market for a small wind turbine to provide power to his home. "I couldn't find one that met my needs," he says. "I decided to make one, and that's how it all began."

PGI makes the turbine's nacelle, rotor and blades, and has a network of regional partners who supply all other components. As well as building turbines, says Chaumel, the group is building expertise that can be transferred to the production of utility-scale machines.

"Partially, the large wind turbine manufacturing sector is totally different than the small sector," he says. "But the small turbine sector is a crucial strategy for companies which want to provide components to the large manufacturers." Several companies making parts for the PGI turbine, says Chaumel, are negotiating to become part of the supply chain of large turbine manufacturers who need to meet the local content requirements of Hydro-Quebec's request for proposals (RFP).

The wind RFP was released by the government owned utility in May and the 1000 MW is to be in operation by 2012. Not only must projects bidding for a contract under the program be installed in the regional municipality of Matane or in the administrative region of Gaspésie-Iles-de-la-Madeleine, but the turbine nacelles must also be assembled there. In addition, Hydro-Quebec requires that 40% of the total project costs for the first 200 MW must be spent in the region, a proportion that rises to 50% for the next 100 MW and 60% for the remaining 700 MW. Bidders also receive credit for Quebec content that comes from outside the eligible region.

ATI plans to submit proposals to Hydro-Quebec for two projects in remote communities using PGI technology, says Chaumel. "It is not clear at this time if these projects will be treated inside or outside the 1000 MW RFP, but they will be submitted before the June deadline," he adds.

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