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EWEA’s anniversary: 25 years powering change

01.10.2007

It is hard to believe that, 25 years ago, the high-tech, aerodynamic electricity generating wind turbines, which are now so common to the European landscape, were little more than a twinkle in an engineer’s eye.

As the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) celebrates its silver anniversary, wind power has become firmly established as a mainstream electricity source, supplying 3% of EU power, and is the most successful of the new renewable alternatives to fossil fuels and nuclear. On 26 September 2007, EWEA marked this event with a party in Brussels, which was attended by many of the key figures who have contributed to the association’s growth and success. For those who were struggling to establish a foothold for wind energy in the early 1980s, it provided a powerful reminder that the energy landscape in Europe has changed beyond all recognition, as a result of their efforts and foresight.

How it all started – the story of EWEA

The first proposal for a European Wind Energy Association came in 1981. Over the previous decade, a number of European wind power conferences had been held, but this was the first suggestion that a Europe-wide organisation should be created. At the time, wind energy was still in its infancy as a commercial renewable technology. A number of experimental turbines of various shapes and designs had been erected, but there were no commercial wind farms and nobody was producing hardware. Vestas was then an agricultural company and Nordtank (now half of NEG Micon) a tank manufacturer. The combined capacity of power producing wind turbines across Europe in the early 1980s was less than 40 Megawatts (MW) and the majority of the world’s wind turbines were installed in California, predominantly by European companies.

At the time, the most active association was in the UK. Britain had taken a lead in wind energy research, and a number of prominent academics and researchers decided to set up the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). By 1981, BWEA had 400 members and was holding successful annual conferences, attracting delegates from all over the world.

The first meeting to discuss the formation of a European association was held in Brighton in August 1981, following a BWEA “symposium”, and was attended by Jos Beurskens (the Netherlands), Maribo Pedersen (Denmark), Horst Selzer (Germany), Giuseppe Selva (Italy), John Dixon (UK) and Donald Swift-Hook (UK). “Our vision is of a professional society,” Swift-Hook, then head of wind energy research at the UK’s Central Electricity Generating Board, wrote in his invitation letter. “Full membership would be restricted to graduate engineers and scientists, but associate membership would be open to all interested parties. In that way it would embrace both Friends of the Earth and unashamedly commercial salesmen, without sacrificing its professional standards or integrity…”

EWEA was formally launched the following year in Stockholm, and the first EWEA Chairman, Gijsbrecht “George” Piepers, who worked for the Dutch energy research institute, ECN, was elected. The first European Wind Energy Conference (EWEC) was held in Hamburg in 1984. To commemorate the founding of the new organisation, Wind Directions became the joint publication of the British and European Associations. “EWEA has been formed to bring together the very large body of people working in this technology throughout Europe,” Piepers wrote in the July 1983 edition of Wind Directions. “Several European countries now have major research, development and demonstration programmes for wind energy. It has been recognised by many of these to be the most promising of the renewable technologies and the nearest to economic viability…” A 10% contribution to Europe’s electricity supply by the late 1990s “is a realistic possibility,” he concluded optimistically.

For more information about EWEA and the wind industry’s development over the last 25 years, please refer to the Wind Directions focus: ‘Special Focus: The Road to Maturity’

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