xHusum triumphs as largest yet again
Against all the odds and to the surprise of many, a small picturesque but unassuming seaside town on Germany's North Sea coast continues to be host to the world's largest wind energy trade fair. Despite poor access, poor infrastructure and inadequate facilities, hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of visitors flocked to Husum, the "little grey town at the sea," for a serious week of hectic business activity. From the smallest nuts and bolts, to the broad sweep of financing and development, to the biggest wind turbines on sale today, Husum was the place to be.
Participants from the world's major commercial centres, newly awakening to wind sector opportunities, have discovered the event may not conform to their previous trade fair experience. But there is little doubt that anyone who is anybody in the world of European wind power is unwise, for the moment, to ignore Husum. The town's event, devoted exclusively to wind energy and held every two years, has expanded over the last decade to become the major meeting point for the industry.
After pondering this development during his first visit to Husum, Bodo Schaar, partner at the London office of legal and finance company Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, concluded that the drivers behind the success of HUSUMwind 2003 "reflect the origin of the wind industry" in breezy northwest Europe and "provide a sound example of economic decentralisation." As an afterthought, he added: "There is also a cost advantage in terms of accommodation." Though some visitors were forced to lodge up to 60 kilometres away, hotel prices in Husum and its hinterland are half that of major cities.
Husumer Wirtschaftgesellschaft, organiser of the Husumwind trade fair, reports that 470 companies displayed their products, packed into the one exhibition building and three large marquees. Around 20,000 visitors, 5000 more than the last exhibition in 2001, rubbed shoulders as they flowed along carpeted wooden aisles under canvas, cramped between the rows of company booths. Gusty weather provided plenty of windy atmosphere, as canvas flapped and poles rattled -- much to the consternation of TV and radio sound technicians. Press and media coverage was intense, a reflection of the importance of wind power in both German politics and the economies of the country's northern regions. More than 13,000 MW of wind power plant operate in Germany today -- well over twice that in either Spain or the United States, wind's two other largest markets.
The strength of the five day trade fair, which closed on September 24, lay in the wide diversity of companies present. One-third of their number came from abroad, according to the organiser, though nearly all were European companies or with strong European bases.
As well as the major turbine manufacturers, an astounding number of service and component suppliers were present -- many of them exhibiting at a wind energy event for the first time. No less than 55 firms displayed electro-technical components, 32 promoted gear and bearings products, and another 11 informed visitors about gear box oils. Twenty six companies had cable products or related equipment on show, 18 companies were there to talk about their corrosion protection products and 13 to communicate on their lubricants. Some companies were listed in overlapping product categories. From fire protection, to patented claw jacks for tower lifting, to new concepts for tower construction and offshore turbine foundations, there seemed to be no limit to the resourceful inventiveness of many a small and large company present.
Two British industrial development agencies, Advantage West Midland and North West Development Agency, saw Husum as the ideal place for spotting components that could just as well be made by companies in the English Midlands or North. A third UK agency, Scottish Development International, was also busy trying to lure business and jobs from mainland Europe across the North Sea.
No less than 69 companies vied with one another to offer service and maintenance, a clear indication of where the long term jobs lie in the business of wind power generation. Consultancy, too, featured strongly at Husum with around 57 touting their expertise, including the Invest in France Agency promoting its domestic wind opportunities. Companies offering wind measuring technology, about 43 in all, made a prominent showing as did the wind project development sector with around 50 companies listed.
Conspicuous by their absence at Husum were relatively new turbine manufacturer Pfleiderer, which is to install a 5 MW prototype on the north German coast in January, and stock exchange listed wind plant developers Umweltkontor and Plambeck Neue Energie. There was much talk at Husum about who the survivors would be on the shrinking German market, now described as "matured" by market analysts.
Matured or not, all the main wind turbine suppliers were well and truly present in Husum. Making a splash with a vast open stand next to that of struggling German turbine maker Nordex was Spain's Gamesa, which has yet to penetrate the German market. For much of the time, however, the huge Gamesa stand resembled a techno-desert, so few and far between were visitors. In contrast, gaining access to the neighbouring two-deck stands of companies like Danish Vestas and German Repower Systems required elbow power and a deal of jostling.
Although a relative newcomer as a wind turbine supplier -- and small compared with the likes of Gamesa, Enercon, Vestas and NEG Micon -- Repower presented itself as a major player. Much interest was aroused by its promotion of a 5 MW offshore turbine, the prototype of which is to be installed in northern Germany at Brunsbüttel next year. The LM blades for the turbine, forming a rotor span of 126.5 metres, will be even longer than the 52 metre blades from Abeking and Rasmussen installed on the Enercon 4.5 MW prototype last year. Finland's WinWind, another relative newcomer, also put in a noticeable and polished appearance, though it attracted relatively few visitors. The company recently clinched an order for its integrated wind turbine technology to Portugal. Its only other order outside its tiny home market has been from France.
Surprisingly, Germany's market leader, Enercon, bucked the corporate image with a corner stand of modest dimensions compared with the presence of much smaller rival Repower. Indeed, compared with the largesse of GE Wind's 180 square metre domination of the event, Enercon barely made an impact. "It's the quality of the action not the size of the stand that is important," countered Enercon's Hans-Dieter Kettwig. "It's become a buyer's market, and so our best technical marketing staff are brought into play," he said.
Britain's FKI Group, with a prominent stand, was taking no chances that its wind turbine maker, Dewind, would go unrecognised as a major player. Just over a year into its ownership of Dewind, FKI is now almost through the process of integrating a small German company -- that had been run mostly on entrepreneurial spirit rather than profits -- into a huge engineering conglomerate, says FKI's Reg Gott. Manufacture of Dewind turbines now takes place in the English Midlands.
The shrinking German wind market and heated political debate about future support for renewables were factors that motivated strong media attention at the trade fair. Five camera crews and a horde of press representatives accompanied federal environment minister Jürgen Trittin and Schleswig-Holsteins premier Heide Simonis to record their opening speeches and tour of the trade fair.
As part of the fair, a congress was arranged by German wind power federation Fördergesellschaft Windenergie, and German wind association Bundesverband Windenergie. It covered general as well as detailed presentations on wind technology, offshore developments, transmission networks, financing and insurance and international markets including France and the UK, the Baltic region, China, Australia, India, Brazil and Arabic countries. Compared with the main event, however, the congress was a small sideshow attracting around 350 delegates.