The Woodstock for wind power

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Surrounded by operating wind turbines with designs going back more than a decade and forced into close proximity with the weather in a windy and wet week, visitors could hardly have had a more atmospheric backdrop for doing business in the burgeoning wind power sector

The huge Husum wind show in northern Germany -- held every other year under canvas -- was yet another record breaker last month, when it was staged for the tenth time. A total of 620 exhibitors from 30 countries and 18,000 participants from about 40 countries were tightly packed into a permanent exhibition hall and three huge marquees in a field on the edge of the small seaside town of Husum. As a first-time American visitor to Husum put it on arrival: "Gee, it's the Woodstock for wind power." This year the discomfort of the few and far-between portable toilet arrangements was somewhat made up for by an extra marquee acting as an efficient restaurant. With its frilled and fluted ceiling, teak wood chairs, conservatory-style tables and floral décor, the decked out white tent was reminiscent of a society wedding.

According to Messe Husum's Hanno Fecke, exhibitors were up 20% and visitors were up 30%. More than 90% of visitors were closely connected with the industry, adds Fecke, 27% of them from outside Germany. Of those, 70% came from other European countries, 12% from the United States and 8% from China. The backdrop of rain pattering on wind-rustled canvas appeared to be no barrier to getting serious wind business done. Neither did it deter high ranking politicians from turning up to face a bevy of press and media, with Germany's environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, playing host to the governor of Iowa, Chet Culver, on a mission to attract industry members to set up shop in his state.

Nearly all the world's wind turbine makers were present, from Canada to South Korea, from India to Arizona, some displaying major pieces of hardware, like a 2 MW nacelle from Spanish Gamesa or German Fuhrländer's 2.5 MW "compact drive train" in a paved space between the marquees. The event's traditional focus, however, is on the nuts and bolts of the industry, or as Husum Messe' PR man Klaus Lorenz, put it: "Tackling the devil that lies in the details and solutions for optimising plant." The product groupings listed 50 turbine repair companies, 61 involved in condition monitoring, and 70 in wind turbine service and maintenance, with some double counting. Beyond that grouping, exhibits were mounted by 55 wind project developers, 93 companies with consulting activities, 22 with an involvement in generator manufacture, 59 in gearbox manufacture, 22 companies offering gear lubrication services and 62 companies involved in measurement technology. From the investment community, 24 companies offered financial services.

Iowa governor

Exhibitors were largely happy with the event, though the usual Husum complaints about lack of hotel accommodation were many. The few non-German speakers hit a language barrier. Nearly all presentations at the accompanying four day conference were in German; most dealt with German matters. Nonetheless, seminars were devoted to the French, Japanese and North American markets. Investor relations and scientific developments got their own slots, while the last day was given over to a careers focus to pull new people into the industry.

A determined pitch was given by Governor Culver, who said that no state was better positioned than Iowa to lead in wind generation and wind turbine and sub-component manufacturing. Iowa is already off to a brisk start having seen three turbine companies commit to manufacturing facilities; America's Clipper Wind, Spanish Acciona, and Siemens' wind division, based in Denmark.

Culver wants to make Iowa a wind production hub by bringing in a variety of sub-component suppliers to support the turbine manufacturers. Among the state's selling points, he said, is a varied and low cost distribution network, a world class workforce and a variety of financial incentives for companies. Culver and others noted the full circle nature of his visit to Germany. Iowa once had one of the highest concentrations of German immigrants in the United States and the German language was more common in many parts of Iowa than English.

The Husum Wind event will next year break with its scheduling tradition and be staged once again in September. After that it will revert to being held every other year, alternating with a special wind power focus staged bi-annually at the huge Hanover industrial trade fair in Germany. A new trade fair centre in Husum will be ready for 2010, says Fecke. Meantime, a third regular wind event held in northern Germany in Hamburg has been dropped following a deal by the Husum and Hamburg trade fair companies to bury their differences and pool resources into the Husum fair. The deal should end irritation in the industry over split loyalties. Husum-based Vestas Deutschland had consistently refused to participate in the Hamburg events, as had German Enercon.

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