Energy experiments and brink of disaster
Vestas starts to experiment with alternatives to traditional energy production, developing wind turbine technology in secret. Despite technological success, the company stands on the brink of closure.
1971 Ready for a new era
A year after building a separate factory for crane production, Vestas hires its first engineer, Birger Madsen.
Known in the company as a provocateur and innovator, Madsen's ingenuity proves essential in developing the technology that turns wind into electricity.
With the oil crisis looming, Vestas will soon be known for something completely different: alternative energy.
1978 Experimenting with the whisk
Keen to avoid ridicule from customers and suppliers, Vestas carries out initial wind turbine experiments in secret. The first prototype looks like a giant egg whisk - and fails to produce sustainable, economical electricity.
Meanwhile, in another Danish town, two black smiths, Karl Erik Jørgensen and Henrik Stiesdal, are developing a wind turbine but don’t have the money to go into production.
They call Vestas to ask for help. Vestas tests their design - essentially the same three-blade model used today - and invites Karl and Henrik to join the team.
1979 The first successful turbine
Vestas sells and installs its first turbine – with a 10-metre rotor and capacity of 30 KW – and the first costumers begin to benefit from clean, sustainable electricity from wind. The above photo shows one of the earlier turbines, the HVK15/55 kW, being dismantled in Lem, Denmark in 1981
1980 Start of mass production and stormy times
An American company, Zond, sends a team to Europe to source wind turbines. As Vestas gears up to welcome the Americans, they receive a call: Zond won’t visit Denmark after all, as they are happy with what they’ve seen in the Netherlands. Determined to show their turbines, a Vestas team jumps into the company’s twin-engine plane and arrives in the Netherlands three hours later. The Americans agree to make the trip to Denmark - and buy two turbines there and then.
Autumnal storms rip through the Danish countryside. High winds snap the blade off a turbine at the Vestas factory, raining debris onto the ground below. Peder Hansen knows there is a serious design flaw and he cancels turbine production and stops all the turbines already installed at customer sites. For a year, the company pays compensation to costumers as it desperately tries to resolve the issue.
1981 Taking control of quality
After a year of investigation, Vestas finds a flaw in the blade’s construction. But instead of conceding defeat and abandoning the dream, Vestas starts to produce its own fiberglass components, ensuring high quality in every stage of production.
Early investing in new wind technology turns out to be a stroke of genius. New legislation in the United States gives tax breaks to wind energy investors and Zond places an order for 155 turbines. The following year, Zond orders 550. Vestas swells from 200 employees to 870.
For Zond, Vestas’ experience in agricultural machinery is important. Farmers like rugged machines that can handle rough treatment, and Vestas’ turbines have the same robust strength.
1985 Intelligent turbines
The first pitch-regulated turbine rolls out. The OptiTip® innovation constantly fine-tunes the angle of the blades - and no competitors can match the increased efficiency.
Zond orders a further 1,200 turbines to be delivered by 1 December. But on the second shipment, disaster strikes: the shipping company goes bankrupt. Anchored outside Los Angeles, Vestas misses the deadline. When the turbines finally arrive, Zond refuses to accept them – and can’t even pay for the turbines already delivered.
1986 The brink of bankruptcy
Suddenly, Vestas finds itself with a huge stockpile of turbines to shift. At home, the Danish government changes the tax laws on turbines, halving the rebate.
Vestas' financial situation looks bleak. On 3 October it goes into suspension of payments. And still, there is nothing wrong with the turbines.