Nevertheless, something needs to be said about a company which after a decade in the business has grown into one of the recognised world leaders of independent wind energy consulting. Garrad Hassan now operates out of a jumble of offices which inhabit a small cluster of buildings around an old converted coach house, next to Garrad's home on the outskirts of Bristol.
These relaxed surroundings house an impressive variety of skills among the company's 25 strong workforce. As partner Unsal Hassan says: "The assets of the company are the people. They have been in the industry for some time and have many years of experience -- and it is the right sort of experience. We have mainly PhD graduates who have something special to offer. It really is brain power."
Garrad Hassan services range from design analysis for wind turbine manufacturers and general research and development, to market surveys, due diligence work for banks and insurance companies and matters of energy policy. Neither does the list stop there if a client wants something completely different. It is all a far cry from the company's early days ten years ago when Garrad and Hassan started up alone after an early apprenticeship in wind energy with construction giant Taylor Woodrow. Here they worked in a section that was later to become the Wind Energy Group (WEG), with Hassan involved in wind and machine measurements while Garrad was responsible for analytical machine modelling.
Five years later the pair took a leap into unknown waters by leaving WEG to set up as independent consultants -- at a time when there was virtually no home wind energy market in Britain. "We left because we could see a growing need for independent expert advice on wind energy -- but in fact we left with nothing to do," admits Andrew Garrad. "Depending on your point of view it may seem daring, brave or just stupid." The pair realised immediately they would have to look abroad for clients and with the benefit of hindsight he now believes this proved to be an advantage. "I would like to be able to say this was a strategy but in fact it was a necessity. But it stood us in very good stead because from the word go we were not limited by British horizons."
The early days
In those early days they used their measurements and mathematical modelling skills to develop software to predict the behaviour of wind turbines, selling consultancy services based on the software. At the time Garrad Hassan was based at London's City University, but when the time came to expand they found difficulty attracting high-calibre staff to work there. Apparently the sort of people who wanted to work in wind energy consulting did not want to work in the middle of London. The move to Bristol was a logical step. The city's proximity to major areas of wind development in Wales and the south west of England, together with good transport communications to London and the rest of Europe make it a sound location for a wind energy business.
There is also an office in Glasgow where seven of the company's staff work. According to Garrad there were two good reasons for opening up a Scottish base. The first was to make use of the talents of Peter Jamieson, employed at Scottish engineering company, James Howden, before it pulled out of the wind business. The second was a sound premonition that sooner or later there would be a market for wind energy expertise in Scotland -- the country with the strongest annual winds in Europe.
Garrad Hassan's main bread and butter continues to come from its analytical and measurement work with around half its 25 staff occupied in that area. However, as wind energy has grown in Britain with the introduction of the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) system of incentives for renewable energy development, so the home market for wind energy consultancy has taken off. "When NFFO arrived the nature of our work changed dramatically and now a significant element of our income and staff are tied up with wind farming," says Garrad. The company was involved with some 30 projects bid into the latest round of the NFFO.
Garrad Hassan claims its only operational rule is to have no investment in any wind energy venture whatsoever. "We have no equity stake in any machine or in any wind farm. That has set us aside from almost everybody else. It has meant that we have not been able to participate in some things that would have been fun, but it has established us as acknowledged independent people and that is vital" says Garrad. "The main tenets of our philosophy are firstly that everything should be high quality -- not necessarily cheap, and secondly that we must always be independent."
Garrad Hassan appears keen to preserve its reputation for independence and claims to steer well clear of the NFFO bidding process. Instead it offers a comprehensive range of services leading up to a bid for a NFFO contract, but maintains its distance during the actual process of setting the bid price. "When we are working for developers we do not want to know what our other clients are bidding. We will provide them with as much information as they like about costs and about revenue but we will not be involved in deciding the bid price. Ever," he adds emphatically.
In spite of the growing market for its services at home, Garrad Hassan's foreign client base still accounts for around 40% of the company's business. Most overseas clients are spread throughout the European Union. Garrad notes with satisfaction that its slogan "The European Wind Energy Consultants" seems to have stuck, with the company occasionally receiving mail addressing it by this name. But it is hardly surprising that it has now set its sights beyond Europe at new wind energy markets opening farther afield. Already it has some work in America and China, and is currently setting up a joint venture in India.
The Garrad Hassan client list of today reads like a Who's Who of the wind industry. Many of the major names from international wind manufacturing and British wind development are there. The company also has a sound track record for gaining work from government organisations and from the European Commission (EC); over the years it has proved more adept than most at securing contracts under the EC Joule and Thermie programmes. Understandably, for someone who has benefited so much from European largesse, Garrad is enthusiastic about the company's EC work. "I feel we have done very well out of the Commission but I think the Commission has also done very well out of us. We are doing exactly what they want, which is bridging the gap between academic R&D and real live manufacturing." He points out that many of their contracts are led by commercial names such as Danish wind turbine manufacturer Bonus, German Tacke Windtechnik and Dutch Nedwind as well as classification society Germanischer Lloyd, also in Germany.
Products on sale
In addition to its consultancy services the company is launching two products for wind turbine manufacturers. The first is a measurement system for monitoring fatigue loads and performance of larger wind turbines. Known as T-DAS -- for turbine data acquisition system, it is likely to be renamed. In Denmark "das" means something else, explains Unsal Hassan coyly. Garrad puts it more bluntly. "We have to change its name because we discovered das in Danish means toilet."
T-DAS was first mooted three years ago when a client asked Garrad Hassan to buy a data acquisition system for a large machine. Finding none to fit the bill the firm developed its own. Today small green boxes of the T-DAS system have already been installed on two Danish Nordtank turbines, British Carter and two WEG machines, and Dutch Nedwind units. "The exciting thing about this is that it does seem to have struck a note," says Garrad. "It was born out of Unsal's 15 years of experience of making measurements on windmills. From our point of view it is also exciting because it is a new development -- a product. Rather than just selling people's time we can sell a product."
The second and newer product on offer is a design tool. With European Union backing from the Joule II programme and in collaboration with WindMaster Nederland and Germanischer Lloyd, Garrad Hassan has just completed a user-friendly interface to work with its existing software for wind turbine design called BLADED. The design tool is the culmination of ten years of developing computer programmes to calculate turbine performance and loading. Eight copies of BLADED have already been sold to manufacturers and the software is used extensively in house at Garrad Hassan. However, it is not easy to use. Unsal Hassan explains: "The problem with BLADED is that it does the calculations -- and does them very well -- but the user is faced with having to enter numbers in a very cumbersome way. What the design tool is doing is providing a shell around BLADED so that it buffers the user from having to enter information in such a way, essentially providing a Windows interface." The company hopes the as yet unnamed design tool will become the industry standard for making predictions. Since Garrad Hassan has been developing it for almost as long as the company has existed -- and has invested more time on the project than any other -- it is hardly surprising that their hopes for recognition for their efforts are high.