The magnetic relationship between business and politics in Finland is at the heart of the country's development into a globally recognised hotbed for technological invention and innovation. The modern Finnish economy is built on "consensus" between industry, labour unions, and ruling administrations. The Finland that emerged from the post-recession period of the early 1990s was an increasingly confident, technology-driven economy that spawned a whole host of significant global niche players. Some emerged from very humble beginnings. Elevator company Kone started life as a small metal rewind workshop. Nokia made rubber boots, toilet tissue, car and tractor tyres.
By 2000 the rolling tide of new technologies had lifted Finland Inc to dizzying heights, but the country's underlying historic problems, combined with political indecision and a lack of a serious long term vision on alternative energy, have served to thwart the emergence of a dynamic indigenous wind power industry. With no clear policy for clean energy, there has been no catalyst for industrial investment and technical innovation, leaving Finland's fledgling wind power sector to look at Nordic neighbour Denmark and ask, "What if?"
Unlike Denmark, Finland has never envisioned wind as a viable alternative to its nuclear, coal, natural gas and hydro based electricity generation. At best, it is regarded as the "preferred alternative energy." With political attention firmly focused on one or more new 1400-1600 MW atomic power plants, wind has barely been considered.
A tale of Finland
Jaakko Ihamuotila, the former boss of state energy company Neste (now Fortum Oyj), often likened his company's global status to that of a minnow swimming with whales. Minnows, he quipped, were more agile in adapting to change, better at innovation and more capable of surviving difficult environments. With no indigenous oil resources, the company created a large scale oil distribution, refining and export business from oil imported from Russia, creating an industry out of nothing to become the second biggest oil refiner in Scandinavia after Norway.
The experience of Finland's sole wind turbine manufacturer, WinWind, is not unlike Neste. The company, based in Oulu, sees itself at the cutting-edge of wind turbine technology, but in contrast to the history of its competitors, it has the narrowest of routes to growing sales in its home market, which added just 3.7 MW of wind capacity in the past two years. WinWind is looking at markets in the rest of Europe.
"There is no doubt that the domestic demand for turbines has been weak. Although this has not helped our business, we remain optimistic demand will improve as will market conditions for sales. State subsidies have been important. Electricity prices are still relatively low. That said, WinWind's future is not based on heavy growth in the Finnish market," says Erkki Kunnari, WinWind's marketing director.
"From our contacts with officials and departments we believe there is growing support within government for the development of wind power in Finland. It may take some time to see the results, but there is every reason to feel optimistic," says Kunnari.
WinWind delivered its first Finnish-built WWD-1 turbine to the north-western power company Oulun Energia's island wind park at Vihreasaari, north of Oulu, in July 2001. In October 2002, it delivered three, 1 MW wind turbines to PVO-Innopower's wind plant at Riutukari-Oulunsalo, on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia. And in January 2003, WinWind delivered two WWD-1 type 1 MW turbines to PVO Innopower's offshore wind station at Syvasatama in Kokkola harbour, an order for EUR 2.5 million.
PVO-Innopower, a subsidiary of independent utility Pohjolan Voima Oy, is one of the primary driving forces behind new wind projects in Finland. Its parent, PVO, holds a 21.5% stake in WinWind along with two further companies also based in WinWind's home town of Oulu, Suomen Head Eco Technologies, Ramaster Oy (formerly Saehkoe-Rantek) and Voimarakenne Oy. The PVO connection could prove crucial to WinWind growing its market presence in Finland and Europe. PVO is examining a proposal to build Finland's largest wind station at Kokkola, consisting of 170 machines with a combined generating capacity of 350 MW. WinWind is well placed to reap the whirlwind from PVO's planned wind investments.
"Our shareholder base is hugely important for us. It gives us access to new technologies, product development and marketing expertise. It also means continued funding, economic stability and assured growth," says Kunnari.
WinWind's product is a 1 MW turbine based on Multibrid technology patented by Aerodyn Energiesysteme GmbH, a German aerodynamics engineering company founded by Soenke Sigfriedsen and based in Rendsburg. The drive train of the innovative WWD-1 turbine consists of a single-stage planetary gear and a low-speed synchronous generator. The concept combines direct drive reliability and the compactness of a gear system, says the company. Electricity production is controlled by a two-way IGBT AC inverter that feeds through a transformer on a voltage level of 10 kV or 20 kV.
The Multibrid's performance is backed by an improved design of rotor blade, made by Eurus in Germany, coupled with pitch control working with a permanent magnet generator. This allows for high efficiency turbine performance, even in low wind speed conditions, says the company. "Georg Boehmeke, our chief engineer, worked at Aerodyn in Germany during the time the Multibrid was being invented. We adopted the Multibrid design in 1999 once we had examined all other alternatives. We started from scratch, with experienced designers from Germany and experienced component suppliers from Finland. Since we had no historical loads, we had the opportunity to create the best solution," says Kunnari.
According to Kunnari, WinWind first identified the chief problems of high-speed gear boxes. It was decided that direct drive technology was not competitive enough when delivering multi-megawatt turbines, mainly due to a heavily increasing weight and generator diameter. "We recognised that multi-MW turbines could play an important role in the future, so we combined the best parts of direct drive and the best parts of a traditional high speed gear system into the WWD-1 turbine. We are using the same concept to develop WWD-3," continues Kunnari.
The extent of WinWind's future international expansion will to a large degree rest on sales of its 3 MW turbine. The pilot plant is to be erected and tested during the first half of 2004. The company is hoping the WWD-3 will be available in larger volumes during 2005. "We are extremely happy with results. They have even been better than we anticipated. There is also a lot of international interest in what we are doing. The future demand is for 3 MW and later 5 MW turbines," says Kunnari.
WinWind's expansion across Europe has already begun. The company is scouting for strategic partners in key growth markets, with special attention assigned to France, Portugal, Italy, Spain, the UK and Germany, says Kunnari. "The German market is congested and there is little room for newcomers. There is certainly more opportunity for growth elsewhere in Europe, especially in France, Portugal, Italy and Spain."
With France's recent call for 500 MW of new wind capacity and its goal of 10,000 MW, WinWind has developed a strategic partnership with InnoVent Sarl under which the French firm will have the exclusive franchise to distribute WinWind turbines in France. The alliance has already produced its first order, also WinWind's first export. The company will supply two 1 MW turbines to a project to be operated by InnoVent Sarl near Lille in northern France. The value of the order is EUR 2 million and the turbines are to come online in the spring.
The next export turbines are headed for Portugal after WinWind won a contract in September for delivery of two 1 MW machines to Enerflora, a renewable energy operator jointly owned by Enersis of Portugal and the municipality of Mafra. The turbines, scheduled to come online in May, will be erected near the town of Mafra, 80 kilometres north of Lisbon. Electricity will be sold to REN, Portugal's national power transmission operator. The project will be managed by WinWind Iberica, WinWind's recently incorporated wholly owned subsidiary in Portugal.
"Our specific goal is to become a technology leader. Achieving large volumes is not our first priority. Investors are looking for a secure rate of return and guaranteed reliability. Our focus is on developing low maintenance turbines that reduce service costs. As regards levels of production, we anticipate jumping in hundreds of units after 2005," says Kunnari.
The Multibrid-based WWD-1 has been developed in collaboration with technology partners Metso Drives and ABB Power Finland. Metso supplies the WWD-1's gear box and ABB the unit's wind plant electrical systems. WinWind is banking on the low maintenance costs of both its turbines as a potent selling point.
"These are very exciting times for WinWind. It helps that Finland has a strong international reputation as a technology innovator. There was also a very positive response to our technology at Husum [German location of a wind energy trade fair] and investors liked what they saw. We feel we are the start of something very big," concludes Erkki Kunnari.