New direct drive turbine design -- Researchers go commercial

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A new multi-megawatt turbine is being developed in the Netherlands with backing from the provincial government of North Holland. Four prototypes of the design, three rated at 3.5 MW and one at 4.4 MW, are to be installed in spring 2008 at the Wieringermeer wind turbine test centre run by Energieonderzoek Centrum Nederland (ECN), the Netherlands energy research centre.

Behind the initiative are a group of Dutch and British researchers. In January they formed Darwind when the UK's Alstom Power Conversion (now Converteam UK) and the Associatie Technologie Overdracht (ATO), or Associated Technology Transfer Foundation, got together to work on a technical solution for direct drive turbines. The machines are to be made by Harakosan Europe in Den Helder, which acquired the Dutch Zephyros direct-drive turbine technology when Zephyros went out of business in 2004 -- having risen from the ashes of veteran Dutch turbine maker Lagerwey a year earlier. Converteam will build the generators and converters in the UK, while either a Dutch or German firm is expected to supply the bearings. The towers are likely to be built locally in North Holland.

Darwind, or Dutch Anglo-Saxon Return to Wind Industry Nations, expects to evolve from a research group into a serious wind turbine competitor, says the company's Hans Bais, who is also managing director of ATO. Making that possible is the province of North Holland. Of the total project cost of EUR 21 million, EUR 14 million is being raised as bank debt -- with the province guaranteeing EUR 8.4 million, or 61% of the loan. The province is also providing a EUR 2 million subsidy.

"This decision is crucial for the position of wind energy in North Holland," says North Holland councillor Albert Moens. "The fact that the province of North Holland has offered the guarantee for the project is a leading factor in getting other parties joining in and investing in the project."

Bais expects all four turbines to be certified by autumn 2008. Talks are being held with another, as yet unnamed, company for offshore testing on two turbines. Meanwhile, a new owner could be about to take control. Bais says Darwind is in talks with "a very powerful stakeholder" already successful in the renewables industry. His hope is this private company will take a majority share in Darwind.

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