Barely 500 delegates and 45 exhibiting companies turned up for the first conference held by the World Wind Energy Association (WWEA) in Berlin -- half the number expected by the organisers. It seemed that the wind sector, after a string of major wind and renewable energy events in western Europe and the United States during the early part of the year, had just about run out of steam by early July.
The organisers appear undeterred, however, and plan to continue with their "alternative" world wind event on a regular basis despite its lack of backing from the mainstream wind industry. "Soccer was of no great interest in Japan and South Korea until they hosted the championship this year. The same effect will be achieved by major wind events around the world," says the WWEA's Preben Maegaard.
While acknowledging the disappointing attendance figures, Maegaard insists there is a need for such an annual event to concentrate on the politics of starting wind markets where there are none, particularly in the developing world. Egypt, South Africa, China and Japan have already applied to hold next year's conference and exhibition, he says. There is a need also for more WWEA supported conferences targeted at the continental level, he adds. Leaders of the many new country wind associations can then be "given a voice as equal partners with more established associations, and the host countries may pay greater attention," he says.
Heinrich Bartelt of the German Bundesverband Windenergie, association (BWE), a member of WWEA, agrees. "We hope to approach key countries on each continent like Brazil, Morocco, South Africa, India and Japan," he says. "If these players become aware of the possibilities and achieve successes, others will too." WWEA has strong German roots.
With delegates from 52 nations, the conference hall certainly had an international flavour to it and presentations included a marathon of 15 country reports. A broad range of subjects were discussed: wind markets, policies, financing and broader economics. Wind use in island systems and desalination and hydrogen technology were visited briefly while offshore developments were discussed in detail. In addition, technical aspects of wind control strategies, generators, blades and maintenance were given a long afternoon session and the conference closed with developments in multi megawatt turbine design.
Reflecting the current dominance of small and medium size companies in Germany's wind sector, there was weak presence from multi-national companies among the speakers -- the exception being Germany's energy major E.on. Instead the congress was dominated by contributions from universities and people on the payrolls of government institutions.
Inevitably, Germany, which by July 2002 had about 10,000 MW of installed wind capacity, was frequently hailed as the example for others to follow. The country's environment minister, Jürgen Trittin, applauded the "wind world champion" status of his homeland and praised the success of the country's renewable energy law, implemented by his party. The law, he pointed out, has been translated into seven languages and variations on the system exist in countries such as Spain, France, Greece and Brazil.
"The next step is offshore wind development," Trittin said. He reminded participants that an amendment to Germany's nature protection law passed last spring paved the way for 2000-3000 MW by 2010: "Our target is to triple wind energy in Germany by using our offshore resource, at the same time keeping a balance with nature."
Meanwhile, in the exhibition hall, it was clear that non-German companies had felt little incentive to come. Of the 45 exhibitors some 35 were German-based companies, including Alstom Power Conversion, wind measuring technology company Ammonit Gesellschaft für Messtechnik, turbine service operator Rope Partners, and blade manufacturer Euros. As one exhibitor described it, the event was a "home match."
There were seven European companies and just three from outside Europe -- rival American companies Automatic Power and Flash Technology, both manufacturers of lighting systems, and Nigeria's Mindsprout Technologies, an environmental and waste management company. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Europe was there on the orders of its parent company based in Japan, said Megumi Akimoto: "We want to show the face of the company in Europe and to the visitors from around the world."
Turbine manufacturer Fuhrländer of Waigandshain was "keen to benefit from the interesting international public at the congress," said the company's Walter Lutz, who took a Chinese delegation to view a wind farm close to Berlin which uses ten Fuhrländer turbines. The company had a substantial presence at the international Hannover trade fair in April, but was absent from June's Hamburg wind fair. "It might have been helpful to have combined the Hamburg and Berlin events," Lutz commented.
Small turbine builder Fortis from the Netherlands had been hoping to attract an international audience. "There has been a surge in demand for stand-alone machines for village electrification over the last two years, explained the company's Johan Kuikman. "What we need now is an association of small turbine manufacturers, perhaps as a branch of the World Wind Energy Association, to establish standards for turbines and promote the industry."