Variable speed for patent respect -- Vestas prototype in Canada

DENMARK: The northwest tip of Prince Edward Island is the home to North America's largest wind turbine with the installation of a prototype Vestas V90 3 MW machine.

The Danish turbine manufacturer chose the location to test the turbine's performance under cold weather conditions, says company boss Svend Sigaard. The area, home to the PEI Energy Corporation's North Cape Wind Farm, has some of the province's best wind resources. "It is a good wind site and therefore we expect quite a lot from it," says Sigaard.

The massive turbine, which has 44-metre blades, the longest Vestas has ever produced, and a hub height of 80 metres, was erected in September. Maritime Electric, which supplies power to about 90% of electricity customers on the island, is buying its output, but Sigaard will not name the owner or operator.

The PEI V90 is a variable speed machine, says Sigaard, but has a different control system than the version the company will launch outside North America because of patents held by GE Wind Energy in both Canada and the US. "That is not due to the fact that we believe it is infringing or troubling any patents, but the legal system in North America has made us make the choice that we will have a different control system. Defending European technology in the US, and in North America in general, is quite difficult."

Vestas plans to install three more V90 prototypes in North America, including one in Alberta, Canada, and two in Texas. Sigaard will not provide specifics about locations, but does say it is part of the testing program for all new turbines to assess their performance in a variety of settings and climates.

While changes to the nacelle design and the use of carbon fibre spars in the blades have produced a turbine that is approximately the same weight as the company's V80 1.8 MW units, Sigaard admits the issues surrounding transportation of ever-larger machines from Europe to North America are "becoming increasingly important." Vestas had announced plans in 2002 to build a manufacturing facility in Portland, Oregon, but was put off by the market bumps created by the US's on-again, off-again production tax credit.

"I think as soon as we can see a more stable market in North America than what we have seen up to now, we'd certainly consider local manufacturing of some kind." Canada, with 316 MW of installed capacity, is not a large enough market to attract Vestas manufacturing. "But it may change in the future," says Sigaard.

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