The future doesn't look too gloomy, says Lagerweij, in what seems to be a quiet understatement. "Since we started the company again in 1985, every year has been better than the year before."
Henk Lagerweij began building wind turbines when he was still at Polytechnic studying electronics. After finishing his studies, he worked in the former wind group of the Technical University of Eindhoven. In 1979, in the middle of the second oil crisis, he started Lagerweij en Van de Loenhorst with his brother-in-law. Those were the days when government energy policy was based on the expectation that electricity prices would rise to $0.20/kWh -- more than enough to make wind energy viable today, smiles Lagerweij. He expects oil prices to rise again someday, and compared with 15 years ago, wind energy is cheap, he points out.
Lagerweij and his brother-in-law developed a 15 kW turbine which was mostly sold to farmers and wind freaks. "In 1982 we sold about 20," he says. Apart from that machine, the young firm developed a twin turbine and even a multi-turbine with six (later reduced to four) rotors and generators on one tower. The idea behind the multi turbine-concept was to harness more wind from one place. Instead of enlarging the rotor diameter, which turned out to be quite a hurdle, smaller turbines were thus combined into one big one.
In the early eighties oil prices were dropping as fast as they had risen. So were sales of wind turbines. In 1985 the company went bankrupt having sold about 60 turbines. Lagerweij's feelings of customer loyalty made him want to continue. "Luckily people started to realise then that wind energy needed some support to survive," he says. "The accident with the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl also helped. That sort of meant the end of the nuclear alternative." Consequently, money became available for developing wind know-how and prototypes and the Department of Economic Affairs started thinking about supporting investment in wind energy.
Ironically, this year will see the last of Holland's wind energy subsidies. Lagerweij is not too sorry to see them go. "Subsidies mean a lot of fuss. Every year there is uncertainty about the amount of subsidy and the conditions attached to receiving it. I think that the Ministry of Economic Affairs will now have to go for a policy of paying a higher price for wind energy."
Once the Lagerwey 15 kW had outlived its useful life, the Lagerwey 18/80 took over, and was certified in 1990. This meant it could be used in projects applying for government subsidy. By the start of this year, no less than 400 Lagerwey 80 kW turbines had been made. Most of them are to be seen alongside farmhouses in the Dutch countryside, but around 150 of them have found their way to Germany.
Indian lease on lifeAt the moment the 18/80 is finding a new lease on life in countries like India. Containers are filled with wind turbine components in Barneveld and shipped to India for assembly there. "Our experience is that people at first buy a smaller 18/80 before they start ordering our 250 kW turbines," says Lagerwey. "A smaller machine means less risk, but still gives you an opportunity to test the word of the supplier." Together with nine 18/80 turbines, 20, 250 kW turbines have been sold to India in recent weeks. The turbines are assembled by Lagerwey's joint venture partner in India.
As a variable speed machine, the Lagerwey turbines are particularly adaptable to the weak Indian electricity system and its problems with maintaining frequency, claims Lagerweij. "A stall-controlled machine has problems when the frequency drops to 47 HZ," he says.
The new 27/250, certified last summer, is now the most popular product in Lagerwey's range among overseas customers. But it was certified too late to be eligible for projects applying for 1994 subsidies in the Netherlands. As a result there is just one 250 kW prototype up and running in Holland. In Germany about five have been installed. The 27/250 was developed by Lagerwey based on the 18/80. An important difference, though, is that the 250 kW has three blades, a dramatic diversion from the two-bladed Lagerwey look. Henk Lagerweij is sorry to see two blades superseded by three, but says the company was forced to take this step to keep rotor noise down.
Three blades look better
The company's new 750 kW -- development of which started in 1993 -- will also have three blades. Apart from the reduced noise-level, Lagerweij has chosen three blades, "because a heavy two-bladed turbine doesn't look good." But a Lagerwey wouldn't be a Lagerwey if it did not have at least one discerning feature. The 750 kW is a direct drive synchronous machine with active electronic control. Lagerweij expects the future will be for large turbines on sites that are difficult to reach, such as islands in the North Sea. The synchronous generator has the advantage of being low on maintenance, he points out.
A prototype of the 750 kW machine will be installed this summer, either in Barneveld or at the former factory site in Kootwijkerbroek. Lagerweij admits that so far he has had difficulty choosing which company should become the blade supplier for the 750 kW. As well as his traditional customers -- farmers and wind energy co-operatives -- Lagerweij wants to sell this machine to the electricity distribution companies, too.
As well as manufacturing turbines, Lagerwey is also the Dutch representative for the Bonus 300 kW and 500 kW turbines from Denmark. "We stuck too long to our 18/80," says Lagerweij. "We had a customer group which outgrew this turbine and wanted something bigger. Dutch farmers are quite inventive when it comes to financial engineering." Co-operation with Bonus has been fruitful, both for Lagerweij and the Danish company, at least according to the Dutch end of the bargain. "We intend to keep on selling Bonus machines," says Lagerweij.
Lagerwey recently stepped into the business of project development, too At the Callantsoog site in North Holland, 16 Bouma turbines will be replaced with Lagerwey 18/80 units on their original, but extended towers. "It is certainly not a main business for us," says Lagerweij. "But I don't have a problem when it is a small part. Let us say it is a kind of service for our customers. We are not only engineering turbines, but also investments."