Creating a new wind turbine supplier

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The promise of jobs and booming exports for an economically depressed area in Spain's poorest region has won the support of three municipal councils and a provincial savings bank for an ambitious attempt by local man Manuel Aguacil to take German technology and create a new Spanish wind turbine manufacturer

Spain has a new wind turbine manufacturer. Eozen has put the finishing touches to a new factory in Andalucia, Spain's vast southernmost region, which will turn out up to 400, 1.5 MW machines a year under licence, together with the needed blades and generators. The 20,000 square metre complex "breaks new ground all round," says Eozen's president Manuel Alguacil.

For a start, it is the first facility in Europe to series produce the wind turbine technology developed by German company Vensys Energiesysteme. Until now, a handful of 1.2 MW Vensys prototypes have been made under licence by Czech company EKD, while outside Europe, the Vensys machine is made in China by local company Goldwind, also under licence.

Second, the Vensys turbine is one of a select but growing group of direct drive (without a gearbox), synchronous generator machines which use power electronics to deliver electricity acceptable to the grid. Germany's Enercon is a successful proponent of the concept. But unlike Enercon, the Eozen-Vensys generator uses permanent magnets to excite the stator, instead of drawing power from the grid, making the Eozen-Vensys machine "even better suited to solving growing grid security concerns," according to Alguacil. He argues that the sophisticated power electronics used by direct drive machines makes them better at providing grid support during network voltage dips.

Third, the Eozen wind turbine factory is the first in the about-to-boom region of Andalucía. Located in Ferreira, it will initially bring 70 direct jobs and the only sizeable source of revenue to three poor municipalities -- Ferreira, Dólar and Huéneja -- on the wind-swept high plateau of Marquesado de Zenete in the province of Granada. Eozen aims to ramp up to 200 jobs by end-2008, when it hopes to start producing 2 MW machines.

"In Granada, we're producing all key hardware except the towers," says Vensys' Dietmar Knünz. He and other Vensys engineers are more often in Spain than Germany, supervising the building and start up of the European flagship in Ferreira. Vensys, a spin off from a wind engineering department at the German University of Saarbrucken, was founded in 2000 and installed its first prototype near the university in 2003. "Now we're coming out to make a mark," says marketing chief Jürgen Millhoff.

Olympic start

The Eozen-Vensys technology has been trying for market breakthrough for some time. Last summer, Goldwind won a contract to supply 33, 1.5 MW machines to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, beating bids by GE Energy, Nordex and other leading wind turbine companies. "That's a pretty significant statement on Vensys quality and a great boost for our Granada factory," says Knünz.

Operational Vensys turbines are so far restricted to seven prototypes, all 1.2 MW models with blades from LM Glasfiber. Most significantly, Canadian developer Vector Wind has followed commissioning of its first Vensys turbine (Windpower Monthly, February 2006) with three more machines at Spring Hill, Nova Scotia. Another three 1.5 MW prototypes are going up in Germany and China.

But while Vensys talks as one with Eozen, the Germany company has no capital stake in the Ferreira facilities. Eozen is not only assuming the entire business risk, but has also developed its own 38 metre glass fibre-epoxy blades, also for sale to customers marketing other turbine technologies. Development of tailor-made power electronics systems has been farmed out by Eozen to Spanish company Viesca.

For Alguacil, "Local jobs and development are Eozen's prime mover." A local lad himself, Alguacil is also director of wind plant developer Marquesado Eólico, majority owner of Eozen. Since 1998, Marquesado has built a development portfolio of 544 MW in the area around the factory, initially linked to an industrial investment plan with Dutch blade manufacturer NOI, which had bought land in Ferreira to build a blade plant. When NOI went bust in 2004, Marquesado Eólico took over the industrial plan. "We had to stick to our promise of linking wind to jobs," says Alguacil.

The decision to go industrial snowballed after Marquesado landed permits to build out projects with a combined capacity of 198 MW, just as the first Vensys prototype was installed in Germany. "That was just the machine we were looking for," says Alguacil. Marquesado sold the rights to the 198 MW of projects to Spain's biggest wind operator, utility Iberdrola, subsequently investing the proceeds in Vensys technology rights and creating Eozen. The venture is backed by semi-public regional savings bank, Caja Granada, which took a 43% stake in Eozen. Marquesado keeps executive power with 51%. The remaining 6% is shared equally among the three municipal councils. Eozen then sealed exclusive rights on Vensys technology in Spain. It also clinched rights to produce blade technology from Holland's Composites Technology Centre, following the acquisition of 29% of that company's capital.

Big risks

"Undeniably, it's a huge business risk," admits Alguacil. It represents years of work and an investment of over EUR 30 million. "But if we achieve just half of what we expect, we'll make a strong market entry."

Much of those expectations hang on advanced negotiations for 178 machines, or 267 MW, across Spain, Germany and the US with an end-2008 horizon. Eozen expects 30 MW to go ahead this year. Furthermore, Marquesado Eólico still has 346 MW in its development pipeline although no contracts have yet been signed. Until the first orders are firm "our project remains a project," confesses Alguacil. As a newcomer, Eozen's bids are for newer wind projects, none of which have secured financing, he explains.

The export market is Eozen's long term aim. "We operate the southernmost factory in Europe, just eight kilometres from [the seaport] Puerto de Santa María with excellent road and rail communications. That gives us almost direct access to growing Mediterranean markets like Italy, France and Greece and to the emerging markets of north Africa and it eases exports overseas, especially to the US," says Alguacil.

No gear bo

xHe is a great believer in the no-gearbox, synchronous generator concept. He points out that Gamesa, Spain's dominant turbine manufacturer, has opted to drop the gearbox from its 4.5 MW prototype, currently under development. He also points out that GE Energy is using synchronous generators, albeit with gearboxes, for its new 2.3 MW machine. Small Spanish wind turbine maker MTorres, which started turning out machines from a factory at Olvega in Burgos last year, is also wedded to the direct drive concept.

Nearly all the world's wind turbines draw power from the grid to excite the generator stator, a concern for grid operators in areas with high concentrations of wind plant. Sporadic local voltage drops can produce loss of generation from large local wind clusters, complicating system recovery rather than aiding it. Most modern machines can now ride through such momentary grid faults. But permanent magnet generators "can hold out almost indefinitely in the case of more serious faults," says Alguacil, foreseeing more exacting grid code demands of wind turbine manufacturers in the future.

"Our machine is also ideal for stand alone applications in rural electrification and remote desalination projects," he adds. Eozen is bidding on a project put out to tender by the Algerian government for up to six wind turbines for a desalination plant in Tindouf on the desert border with Morocco. It is preparing similar bids in the Canaries and for Madeira.

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