Market conditions might be far from perfect in the Czech Republic but wind energy is nonetheless securing a foothold against all the odds. Already fourteen projects have been installed, the latest consisting of four Ekov 400 kW units at Mravenecnik, with another to follow shortly. Czech turbine manufacturer Energovars, based in Frydek-Mistek, is also moving into the big time. In September it started testing its new 630 kW wind turbine, the EWT 630.

But times are tough, a fact Jindrich Kappel of Energovars readily acknowledges. "It is a difficult time for business in the Czech Republic so we must look towards markets abroad," he says. Kappel lists a long catalogue of obstacles to the development of a wind industry in his country. The low price of energy in general and high bank interest rates are two major problems. "The general lack of government support and the opposition of politicians to renewables for no sensible reason do nothing to help," he points out.

The wind projects installed so far, with one exception, are owned by private individuals, small companies or communities. The exception is the Dlouha Louka project, owned by major Czech utility Ceske Energeticke Zavody (CEZ) of Prague. The largest individual wind plant consists of six Vestas 500 kW units sited in the Jeseniky mountain range close to the Polish border. By the end of 1995 installed capacity may reach 10 MW.

The Energovars 630 kW prototype has also been sited in the Jeseniky mountains of Moravia, next to an existing EWT 315 kW at a height of 1150 metres. The prototype, like the EWT 315, is designed to Germanischer Lloyd rules and the company is hoping to market it abroad as well as at home, especially to India. Once its success is assured, says Kappel, thoughts will turn to designing and building a wind turbine without a gearbox.

Energovars was founded in December 1992 and now, with 11 employees, is paying particular attention to the trials of running its wind stations at high altitudes. "The operation of our wind turbines in extreme conditions has forced us to solve many special problems which bear no comparison with the conditions at coastal sites," says Kappel. In another project, an EWT 315 has been operating since November 1993 at 897 metes above sea level at a site on the Bohemian mountain Krusne Hory. At both these sites the electricity generated is sold to CEZ.

Keen interest

Interest in harnessing the wind's energy is certainly not lacking in the Czech Republic. "After an article about the Czech wind energy association in an agricultural magazine earlier this year we received 40 requests for information on loans and grants, mainly for small machines of 5-10 kW," reports Milan Miessler of the association. Some people have ambitious wind plans, he says, while others are overly optimistic about grants available and the returns they can expect from wind. Many, however, are quite pragmatic and want to use wind generated electricity directly for their own use, for freezing or drying produce. This by-passes the problem of intermittency of power supply and the low payment for electricity from wind, explains Miessler.

Meantime the fight continues to persuade the country's finance ministry to introduce three measures to help the wind industry: extension of the tax holiday for turbine owners from five to ten years; reduction of the depreciation period from 15 years to eight years -- advantageous because of the arrangements for tax on leasing; and the establishment of a minimum purchase price for electricity from renewables, which should be set at 90% of the average retail price.

The ministry has so far responded to demands for a green levy on prices to support the use of renewables with a straight "no." Its "free market" philosophy apparently forbids such measures. However, steady pressure in the past has won small victories. Earlier this year a law was introduced obliging utilities to take up all renewable electricity generated.

Realistic potential

The readily available wind energy resource in the Czech Republic is approximately 0.5 to 0.6 TWh a year. This amount of power could be generated by about 1000 turbines with rated outputs of 350-410 kW, according to Josef Stekl from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Prague and chairman of the Czech wind energy association. This represents around 1% of Czech electricity generation in 1994. The readily available resource excludes national parks, other protected areas, wooded areas and regions ruled out for ecological or economic reasons, such as poor access to the high tension grid.