INDUSTRIOUS BUT NOT INSPIRING

At the 1994 European Wind Energy Conference in Thessaloniki, Greece, plans for advancing the market were few and far between. The good news was that many of the industry's technical problems seem to be solved, EU support is on the increase, and most European countries have market incentive programmes. Renewables fit well into the EU's goals of creating new jobs and stimulating small and medium size companies and export potential. The utilities' monopolies are gradually being broken and are slowly beginning to react to environmental lobbyists. The article suggests the exhibition and conference might benefit from being split into two separate events.

Europe's premier wind event of the year was a tame affair. More industrious than uplifting, the 1994 European Wind Energy Conference lacked much of the purpose and vision of previous gatherings of the wind community this decade. For an industry currently installing more wind power plant in more new markets than ever before, the lack of focus was surprising and a little disappointing. Attendance, at around 540 in total, was down on the previous high of more than 700 at a Europe-wide conference and the exhibition made poor use of the ample space available.

Not that the European Wind Energy Association's EWEC '94, held in the superb facilities of the international trade fair halls at Thessaloniki in Greece, was in any way a flop. It was just uninspiring. As one conference veteran commented: "It feels like conferences of five or six years ago -- when we all met just to prove we existed." In this respect EWEC '94 fulfilled its traditional role of matching and mixing hundreds of experts on every wind subject imaginable, from aerodynamics, control systems and fatigue analyses to wind-diesel, wind pumping and autonomous hybrid plant. Clutches of young technicians gathered in corners throughout the four day event and came out beaming. "When you've worked on something for a long time it is good to be able to present your work and hear if you've achieved something or if you are way off line," said one. His comment was greeted by industrious nods of agreement all round. Some 200 technical papers were presented during the four parallel sessions which continued through three and a half days. They had been prepared by more than 800 authors and co-authors from five continents.

What was missing from Greece was much of the scintillating political rhetoric which so ignited last year's European conference in Germany and is such a trade mark of American wind gatherings. An opening session speech, albeit positive, by Greece's environment minister, Elizabeth Papazoi, was not enough to set the event alight. This lack of political focus was a surprising omission in a country that had just passed a new electricity law opening up the market to renewables (Windpower Monthly, October 1994). But it seemed the law was too new for in-depth treatment at the conference and its importance failed to have much impact on delegates from 36 countries. With politics being left largely well alone, there was little at EWEC '94 for the Greek press to show an interest in either, especially with nationwide local elections looming on the horizon the following week. Missing, too, were the shakers and movers of the commercial world who have been helping push wind into the energy market place. If they were present, financiers, insurers and private sector developers were keeping a low profile. Neither was there much evidence of utility representation -- outside the token wind experts now employed by most public power generation companies.

The conference's commercial and political vacuum could have been filled by strong leadership from the European Wind Energy Association, such as that displayed three years ago in Amsterdam when EWEA presented its strategy plan, Wind Energy in Europe -- Time for Action. But there was little analysis of how many of the action plan's goals have been reached or identification of areas where political pressure is especially needed now. If EWEA is gathering force for the next great push towards carving out a larger market share for wind, it was keeping its plans quiet.

The mood in Greece was one of an industry which has reached a political and technical plateau. Not only was political purpose in short supply, but also talk of technology breakthroughs. There were mutterings about the future importance of developing autonomous hybrid power plant for remote applications -- and British wind consultant Andrew Garrad talked of the need to bring down the weight of wind turbine components. He suggested, too, that renewed effort be directed at applying the latest technical advances to designs in the medium size range, 250-350 kW, instead of concentrating almost exclusively on developing bigger and bigger machines. But none of these potential conference themes struck home. It seems the industry has reached a point where much of its early aims have been achieved and it has yet to decide where to concentrate its efforts next. Technically, solutions have been found for many of the mechanical and electrical problems which earlier dogged the industry. Politically, market incentive programmes for wind have now been introduced in most European countries, France being the notable exception. Importantly, too, EU financial support of programmes aimed at encouraging technology advances has never been higher. A pregnant question seemed to hang in the air: where to now?

The good news

A highlight of the conference -- especially for the many technicians whose work is supported by public money -- was the news that European Union (EU) support of renewables research, development and demonstration has been greatly increased under the Fourth Framework Programme for non nuclear energy. The programme was finally agreed on September 29, just ten days before the conference opening. Both the Thermie and Joule programmes -- the main support vehicles for wind administered respectively by the European Commission's Directorate General for Energy (DG XVII) and the Directorate General for Science, Research and Technology (DG XII) -- are to be continued, with Joule's renewables budget given a huge boost (see story pages 26-29).

"We are at a turning point now in the EC. It is the end of the old programme and the start of the fourth framework programme," a clearly delighted Arthouros Zervos from DG XII told the conference. Referring to the Fourth Framework Programme budget, he commented: "The EC is putting more force into renewables and this is coming from all three institutions, the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament." From DG XVII, Enzo Millich said the EC's support of renewable energy in the future will cover a wider spectrum. He pointed out that renewables meet many of the European Union's overriding political goals including creation of new jobs, stimulation of small and medium size companies, furthering the EU's export potential, and involving the private sector actively in furthering development.

And the Greek news

The enthusiasm introduced by the EU representatives was soon dampened at the opening session by Greece's Public Power Corporation (PPC). A presentation by the utility's Athos Kravaritis failed to impress the audience of PPC's commitment to wind energy. Although making much of the utility's wind measurement programme, running since the 1970s, and the high cost of operating diesel power plant on the Greek islands, Kravaritis chose to dwell on wind's difficulties and not its benefits. He pointed to the problems of transportation of wind turbine components to Greek islands and claimed that wind power had a detrimental effect on PPC's power quality, although the utility was working on ways of solving this.

A far more positive view of the contribution wind energy can make in Greece came from environment minister Papazoi. She said that if the external cost of power production was taken into account, this would increase the price of electricity in Greece by GRD 25-40/kWh, easily covering the GRD 17/kWh generation cost from wind plant. "Our ministry will put a lot of stress on environmental cost," continued Papazoi who said the aim was to stabilise C02 emissions in Greece at 1990 levels. She assured that the environment ministry was intending to work closely with the energy ministry towards this goal, which included installation in the short term of 300 MW of wind power.

Her determination was reflected by the General Secretary for Industry, Energy and Technology, Anastasios Mantelis, who spoke on behalf of the energy minister. What is wanted now is to know how we can continue to develop our prosperity while maintaining our environment," he said. "We will work hand in hand on this," he added, referring to his ministry's relations with the environment ministry.

In an apparent attempt to placate PPC's ruffled feathers, now that the new electricity law passed on September 22 has broken its monopoly on power supply, Mantelis assured that the stable price to be offered independent power developers for their electricity would not be economically irresponsible. "PPC can save resources and also participate in making money. The savings in costs that PPC can now make will be twice as much as the increase in price for power generated on the mainland," he said.

A stable tariff for electricity is an important incentive, continued Mantelis, and means that investors can secure capital. "We are carrying out an experiment and we would like it to be a successful experiment," he said, adding that there had been a deal of opposition to the law. "The priority in Greece is solving the problems of implementation. We want to co-operate in development of new technologies." Local production of wind turbines in Greece is also a ministry aim, he said.

Where are we now?

Presenting an overview of the current status of the wind market, Andrew Garrad tracked several development themes. Highlighting the need for further technology advances aimed at reducing wind energy's cost, he pointed out that major jumps in the size of wind turbines, from today's commercial machines of 600 kW to prototype development of 1.5 MW units, was only resulting in a relatively small dip in price. "Mass reduction rather than mass production could be the real key," he commented. Wind turbines are still over dimensioned, but better understanding of all aspects of the technology will enable the use of lighter components, he pointed out. He also said there was a growing trend towards variable speed machines.

Predicting market movements, Garrad said he anticipated that growth of the European market would level off at the end of the 1990s. In the first three years of the next century, the market in the US would outstrip that in Europe, but that of the rest of the world -- with particular focus on Asia -- would by then be the largest, running at about 500 MW a year. The total wind market, he predicted, could be as much as 1300 MW annually.

Supporting Garrad's view of the American market, US consultant Jamie Chapman said there would be a "muddled period" for the next three to four years in the United States as the electric utilities re-structured towards a more flexible approach to power supply. "Generally speaking the utilities are beginning to have a grudging acceptance of wind," he said, although he doubted that the United States would give much thought to the environmental benefits of wind energy. "Utilities will continue to regard wind as negative load that only slightly reduces the need for spinning reserve capacity." In words equally applicable to Europe and the US, he concluded: "We ought to try and foster a more aggressive public policy debate to facilitate a better comparison of wind with other sources."

From the exhibition

Never before has the European wind industry had such impressive exhibition facilities at its disposal -- and put them to so little use. Just one company, Vestas of Denmark, had made the effort to display a whole wind turbine nacelle, showing its 500 kW machine to good effect as the centrepiece of the exhibition floor. But far from all were impressed by Vestas' effort. Many of the smaller exhibits were overshadowed by the towering Vestas stand, behind which nearly half the exhibition was hidden. As one of two major suppliers to the Greek market, Vestas felt it had good reason to put on a professional display, but this was a minority view among the 35 exhibitors from ten countries.

"This kind of exhibition attached to a conference does not attract people interested in visiting our stand," said Jørgen Olesen of Danish turbine manufacturer, Nordtank. The company's project manager, Peter Melchior-Rødder, added: "I really do not see the idea in holding this kind of exhibition." Their views were shared by many and the most frequent comment was, "We're here because you have to be seen to be here." There was a broad consensus, heard before but never with so much clarity, that the time has come for a total re-think of European wind conferences. Most favoured splitting the commercially oriented exhibition and the highly technical conference into two separate events. As it is, wind companies are frustrated by having to put large sums of money into a commercial exhibition where potential customers can be counted on one hand. "At the moment the Greeks are only getting an idea of what wind is all about. This event was not advertised in the city at all," commented Jochen Twele of small German wind turbine manufacturer, Südwind. "But it was nice to see people face to face. What I have got here is a better impression of the market outside Germany." Nick Bristow, of British manufacturer Markham, added: "The big disappointment has been the lack of Greeks. There must have been two or three potential customers all week." Markham has recently re-launched its variable speed Floda 600 kW machine, originally an Austrian design, as the Markham VS45, marketed in Germany by Südwind.

The frustration of the exhibitors was matched by that of the technical experts who felt overwhelmed by the enormous scope of the event. They complained of lack of time for detailed presentation of their work and said they would welcome separation from the marketing and political aspects of the conference, for which they had little interest. These would be better attached to a fully fledged commercial exhibition, they added.

Back on the exhibition floor, several companies said they would prefer to exhibit less often but more seriously, preferably in a country with an established wind market. Most admitted to not having invested as much money into exhibiting in Greece as they would have done if the event had been held elsewhere. Energy is the theme of the giant Hannover Trade Fair in Germany every other year, making it eminently suitable for a specialised wind exhibition, several pointed out. As the world's largest wind energy market there would be plenty of reason for the wind industry to showcase its technology in Germany -- a far better use of financial resources than reluctantly being required to exhibit at an EWEA event in a country where a wind market has yet to materialise. "The Hannover Trade Fair is far more interesting for us, but we have got what we came for," was the comment of Erling Salling Olesen of Micon of Denmark. "There should be a trade conference but there also has to be a technical conference, too," summed up Nils Andersen of Vestas, chairman of the European Wind Energy Association's newly formed corporate group.

Despite being a little dissatisfied with the event, few exhibitors admitted to being disappointed -- and some were even positive. Interestingly, there were six American companies represented at the European exhibition, making up the largest national group alongside Denmark, which also had six stands. A latecomer was giant US company, Westinghouse, which has recently re-entered the wind business with plans to market wind plant worldwide together with New World Power, also of the US. There is talk, too, of Westinghouse manufacturing the German Enercon turbine in the US, a machine pictured in its brochure material. At the Thessaloniki exhibition, though, the small Westinghouse stand, apparently devoid of personnel throughout the event, was separate from the large Enercon booth.

Also from the United States was Zond Systems, a wind project developer and manufacturer of the Zond 500 kW wind turbine. From Zond's UK office, Bill Richmond said of the event: "We are here with a specific agenda to see specific people, so it is not a total washout. But there are no developers and no finance people. You need to have the whole gamut of the wind industry for it to be a proper conference." Wayne Hoffman of FloWind in the US agreed. "We have some very definite interest in Greece and we have been able to follow up on it. We also needed to know more about the competition." In Europe FloWind is actively marketing the revamped version of its vertical axis wind turbine, which now has a laminate flow, stall regulated blade. Hoffman pointed out that the VAWT was extremely quiet, making it more suitable for many European sites than horizontal axis technology.

A newcomer to the wind industry, gear box manufacturer Ashot Akelon of Israel, was enthusiastic. "We are extremely positive. We have had interest from everybody, all the main manufacturers." Henning Kruse of Danish turbine manufacturer Bonus, was nearly as cheerful: "The biggest advantage is that you can meet people you would have had to travel all over Europe to see. People are here all week and there's plenty of time to talk." He, too, said real customers only amounted to one or two. As a component supplier, Brigitte Nolopp of wind measurement equipment company Ammonit of Germany, said her contact with potential customers was better: "After being here I have really come to realise it is time to offer our services on a European scale. For me it has been a learning process. I feel we have developed so far that we can really offer a good and competitive service. You have to spend the money to be here. You have to make the effort. To invest in communication is vital."

The organisation

The sprawling facilities of Thessaloniki's international trade fair ground meant there was plenty of room for everybody at EWEC '94 -- from the nacelle of a Vestas 500 kW turbine to the wives and girlfriends who accompanied many of the delegates. For this reason it was a shame that attendance was relatively low. About 470 registered delegates turned up during the week, with another 70 or so attached to the exhibition, said John Tsipouridis, secretary of the organising committee. This was 200 or so less than at last year's European Community Wind Energy Conference in Germany and the exhibition failed to attract the many members of the public who visited yhe European Wind Energy Association's previous conference in Amsterdam in 1991.

With so much space available and so relatively few in attendance, there was far more room for both the poster sessions and exhibitors than is normally the case at a wind conference. This was welcomed by the majority, though some felt the whole event had a half-empty feel about it.

The quality of content of the technical presentations was deemed generally good by various specialist researchers, although the quality of presentation was often deplorable, they said. There was also a certain amount of criticism of the organisation of the four parallel sessions, with sessions on loads and dynamic loads at one time taking place simultaneously -- to the frustration of those who wanted to hear both. But such complaints were the exception rather than the rule, with most expressing pleasure at the seemingly limitless Greek hospitality and the fact that organisational skills in Greece are a lot better than their reputation.

Tsipouridis pointed out that with a total of 200 presentations it would have been more remarkable if there had been no clash of interests. A total of 360 papers were submitted to the organisers, all of which were selected for oral or poster presentation, barring just ten that were rejected. A question for the organisers of the next EWEC is whether the quality of the whole event would not be better if tougher selection criteria were applied, enabling rejection of more papers. Or if, indeed, the technical side of the conference were divorced from the political, marketing and commercial topics.

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