A new company with old roots

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Tacke Windtechnik has expanded at breathtaking speed since its foundation in 1990. A concentrated advertising campaign in the early days established the German company as a household name in wind energy circles. Since then, a series of sales has put Tacke up among the front runners in Germany's wind industry -- sales rocketed from DEM 4.5 million in 1991, to DEM 19.7 million in 1992, DEM 47 million in 1993 and projected turnover is well over DEM 100 million for 1994.

Illustrating the company's speed of development, managing director Markus Tacke enthusiastically describes its track record: Tacke was the first wind company in Germany to win an ISO 9001 quality certificate, the first to series produce turbines with a hub height of 50 metres, the first to series produce turbines with a 43 metre rotor diameter, the first with blades with integrated lightning protection, the first on the Germanmarket with a 500 kW machine and the first with a 600 kW machine -- developed and built within just 12 months. The planned 1 MW machine, the first of its generation in Germany, will take a little longer with installed scheduled for 1995.

The name Tacke stretches back over four generations to 1886 when Franz Tacke set up a machine factory in Rheine in North Rhine Westfalia (NRW). The company went on to survive wars and recessions and in 1985, Franz Tacke, grandson of the original founder, decided to set up a wind energy sector. In 1987, Tacke merged with Renk machinery company, to form Renk-Tacke producing gearboxes for industry and ships. Three years later, in 1990, Franz Tacke bought out the wind division to form an independent company, Tacke Windtechnik (TW), now run by him and his son, Markus Tacke.

At its birth TW was tiny with just four employees, but its close association with three other Tacke companies from which it could buy services -- KTR which produces couplings, F. Tacke which supplies components for gearboxes and Tacke Datentechnik, a specialist in data technology, was a good support in the early days. Before long, however, TW was large enough to drop these links and some 70 people are now employed at the company.

Originally TW was based in Rheine in NRW, like its former parent company. However, the company was anxious to move to a Länder where use of wind energy was expanding fast and where energy policy was positively and actively in favour of wind power. While North Rhine Westfalia had a modest and growing wind sector, its market could not compete with the dynamic developments and political support to be found in Lower Saxony. TW's original plan was to relocate to Wilhelmshaven on the Lower Saxony coast. But somehow the necessary spark of enthusiasm in Wilhelmshaven was missing for the move north. Instead TW found better political and administrative help and co-operation for a move just a few kilometres up the road to Salzbergen, just 300 metres over the border into Lower Saxony.

From that point on TW has not looked back. New office premises and an assembly workshop were completed at Salzbergen in 1992, though they are already proving too small for the current pace of production -- between 150 and 180 wind turbines will be completed this yearand series production of the new 300 kW turbine will also begin in 1994. To solve the space problem, a new workshop is under construction next door to the existing workshop. The TW 500 kW and 600 kW turbines and later the 1 MW machine will be assembled in the new building which should be ready by the end of April, after which the existing workshop will be extended. The workforce will then expand to over 100. Also another floor is to be added to the office section for changing rooms and a company canteen.

Tacke Windtechnik's production philosophy is to develop its own turbine and blade designs in co-operation with external engineering companies, but to have all other components supplied by outside companies. Tacke only assembles the finished machines and does not have to keep expensive production machinery occupied should wind turbine sales suffer a temporary lull. The company can also call on several component suppliers -- taking full advantage of the competitive market in wind turbine parts. Tacke is also flexible when it comes to product development. "Our production is dictated by what the market needs," says Markus Tacke.

Most of the wind turbine gear boxes are produced by Renk, but Flender has also become a supplier. Blades were produced by LM Glasfiber of Denmark, but the new design, with integrated lightning protection, is made by Abeking and Rasmussen in Lemwerder. All TW turbines nacelles are mounted on round steel towers with internal access, built by CAL of Leipzig. While arguments over the merits of concrete towers over steel towers continue, Markus Tacke notes that some concrete towers installed have cracked after only a few years. Steel towers have a long-term advantage, too, he says. Once a turbine has reached the end of its working life, there will be a ready market to buy steel towers as high quality steel scrap. It is unlikely that the same can be said for the concrete towers.

Third place

Over the last four years TW has worked hard to establish itself on the German wind market. As a sign of its success, Markus Tacke points out that in 1993 his company was market leader in Lower Saxony. This achievement, on the home ground of rival Enercon, has pleased the company immensely. TW is now third, after Enercon and Vestas, in terms of the number of wind turbines it has installed in Germany.

The company is now anxious to get closer to coastal markets in other German states and is planning to set up branch offices in the windy states of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It has already founded one new subsidiary, Germania Windpark, initially to operate what will probably be Europe's largest wind power station -- Windpark Utgast in Ost Friesland comprising 60, 600 kW machines. The wind plant should be installed by the end of the year. Germania will then go on to plan and realise other wind farms as well as providing services for other operators, ranging from planning to financing consultancy.

"The German market is still booming, but this won't go on forever," observes Markus Tacke. He wants at least half of TW's turnover to stem from exports within the next few years. To this end, partnerships are being forged with companies in other countries. The Dutch Technische Buro, based in Hengelo, has for decades been a partner of the Tacke gearbox company. Tacke Windtechnik has now joined the partnership and a first sale to Holland may shortly be announced. In the USA, the small Tacke Corporation, set up by another member of the Tacke family, is expanding its Tehachapi wind farm of 15, 150 kW turbines with four 600 kW turbines. In India, too, TW has set up a joint venture with another family firm, Flovel, based in New Delhi. Four TW 250 kW turbines will be delivered to India in the first half of 1994.

The question of turbine cost arises when German manufacturers turn their attention to export markets. The German view tends to be that German customers are gourmets and want only the best, even if this costs a little more. Some competitors, they feel, turn out turbines cheap and fast and if something goes wrong the machines can be replaced at relatively low cost. Admittedly, prices of turbines have already dropped in Germany as government wind support programmes wane, but they are still not seen to be cheap enough for most foreign markets. A solution would be to set up manufacturing facilities abroad where wages are lower -- but at the risk of compromising on quality.

TW has taken its first step abroad by setting up an assembly workshop in New Delhi for the Tacke 600 kW. This will be operated by its joint venture partner, Flovel-Tacke. TW is also playing with the idea of expanding into other renewable energy technologies and sees its co-operation with Flovel, a manufacturer of turbines for small hydro power stations, as a useful stepping stone.

Other foreign projects include the supply of four 250 kW turbines to Brazil, for the Morro do Camilinho wind station in the state of Minas Gerais. This project has been developed under the German El Dorado programme for support of wind projects in developing countries. Some administrative hiccups were encountered when the Brazilian authorities demanded documentation proving that it was necessary to manufacture the turbines abroad because they could not be made in Brazil. Without such proof, import duty would have to be paid. The matter was further complicated by the rules of the El Dorado programme, which do grant subsidies to projects liable for import duties. To Tacke's relief, these hurdles were soon cleared.

On the promising Greek market, a slight foothold was established in Crete in 1992 with the delivery of three 500 kW turbines under the European Commission's (EC) Thermie programme, one of them with an enitre camouflage paint job, completed according to a colour plan stipulating the precise shape and positioning of an intricate patchwork of natural shades of earth and sky. Closer to home, TW is also planning wind power stations in Great Britain, though camouflage paint work is not yet a requirement of the British planning authorities.

And what of the future? Technology development includes a 1 MW pitch controlled machine at a cost of DEM 5-10 million. It is not yet clear whether EC funds will be available to cover some of this cost. Although there are no technical problems with developing a 1 MW with turbine, TW does not expect the sales volume to equal that of the 600 kW turbine, comments Rainer Fiedler, head of sales and project management. Aesthetically, people are likely to feel more comfortable with the 600 kW size, he says, and initially power from the smaller unit will also be cheaper. New blade technology will have to be used for the 1 MW, too, as glass fibre is likely to be too heavy, he says. The alternatives are epoxy or expensive carbon fibre. Solutions to the high cost of carbon fibre would have to be found. Plans to develop a 30 kW turbine have been dropped. The market is demanding machines of 600 kW and the 30 kW market would require too much time and resource to develop. "It just doesn't fit into our range of products at the moment," says Fiedler.

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