Comment: Voice of Experience

Putting together this month's special publication in honour of the 25th anniversary of Windpower Monthly's launch was a thought-provoking trip down memory lane for the many people who contributed to the product, enclosed with this issue of the magazine.

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The process alone of identifying 25 turbines typical of their day for the centrefold graphic prompted many a heated debate over old black and white photos. Brains were also well exercised by the image that emerged of a quarter of a century of global wind development. Could it really be true that so much growth has occurred in just the past five years? Yes, it is.

If one theme runs through the interviews, commentaries and memoirs that make up the 25th special, it is regret over the loss of the pioneering spirit of the early years. Inventor engineers of the past shared not only their passion for tinkering with windmills, but also their mistakes, their innovations and above all their discoveries. Without doubt, the extremely rapid pace of wind technology development owes much to this unselfish willingness to learn and benefit from one another.

That early openness and sharing of knowledge has for the most part succumbed to competitive pressures, with manufacturers unwilling to even admit to technology problems that are in plain view, let alone discuss them in public. Most damaging to the long term health of a new industry up against an entrenched establishment is its unwillingness to put heads together to solve some of the fundamental technology problems that are keeping the cost of wind energy unnecessarily high. Gearbox failures are a case in point.

The problems caused by this closed-doors mentality were in evidence last month at the first event hosted under a Windpower Monthly banner - a networking forum on the role of preventive maintenance in reducing the cost of wind energy. Complaints about turbine suppliers retaining information, not only on component problems, but also on basic technology details, were many. The phrase "anti-competitive practice" was uttered more than once by frustrated owners and independent service companies alike.

An obstructive mentality has never served any industry well in the long run and neither have barriers to competition. The pioneering spirit that got the wind industry to where it is today may have passed into the history books, but there are still lessons to be learned from those early voices of experience.

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