Visit the German Windpower Museum–When You Can

By Paul Gipe

I’ve just learned that an open-air museum of wind turbines in Germany has expanded its collection to include two US-built machines. I hope to get there some day–once Covid-19 has lifted. Nothing like kicking iron if you’re into windmills.

The German Windpower Museum, which bills itself as the “windpower you can touch,” has added a Bergey small wind turbine and a Kenetech KVS 33 carcass to its stock of machines for restoration. The museum 40 km (20 miles) northeast of Osnabrück in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) has an extensive collection of wind turbines from the early days of the modern wind revival in Germany.

They have about a dozen machines on display and another dozen or so awaiting restoration. Some of the wind turbines are in operation, that is, standing atop their towers generating electricity and that’s the best way to show off these machines.

I’ve visited more than a few open-air museums in my time. Most feature traditional windmills. In Europe that’s the typical “Dutch” windmill and here in North America that’s the expected “American” or what Europeans call the “Chicago” water-pumping windmill. (See North American Open-Air Museums, and European Open-Air Museums.)

The Bergey 10 kW is a classic small wind turbine still in production, though much modified over the years. Developed by small wind pioneers Karl Bergey and his son Mike, the company has been a mainstay of the small wind industry in North America. You can find their turbines in use worldwide. I was a dealer for them in the early days and installed a few—too few to make a living at it, leaving me to migrate to the wind farms of California in 1984.

Kenetech’s KVS 33 was a large wind turbine of its day. The 33-meter diameter, 300-kW wind turbine was the much touted “5-cent” machine that was supposed to propel what was then US Windpower to the top of the wind turbine heap. It didn’t do that—to say the least—and it wasn’t the “5-cent” windmill they’d promised either.

The Danes had a different strategy of successively building upon their experience and gradually increasing the size of the wind turbine in each new generation.

US Windpower, cum Kenetech, hadn’t kept pace with the industry. Instead they focused on installing some 4,000 of their 17-meter, 100 kW turbine in California’s Altamont Pass. When they decided they needed something bigger to compete with the Danes in other markets, they leapt beyond their capabilities.

The KVS 33 use a single gearbox to drive twin generators. This was novel but not unheard of at the time. They were one of the first—but again not the first—to couple a variable speed rotor with a power inverter. They cut corners to get the cost down and in the process produced one of the ugliest wind turbines of the period. I characterized it as a “cockroach on a stick.” That and other comments I’d made about their development practices didn’t endear me to the masters of the universe that ran the company.

So it was more than a bit shocking then when I was asked to say a few inspirational words at the dedication of Kenetech’s first wind farm in northern Europe. (See Fluttering Flags, Can-can, & the Big Men of Wind Energy.)

It was from this Kenetech wind farm in the Netherlands, long since scrapped, that the German Windpower Museum got their KVS 33 nacelle. There are wind turbines operating in that polder near Eemshaven now, variable-speed, direct-drive Enercon machines from across the bight in Germany’s Ostfriesland.

Not unsurprisingly, the museum has several iterations of Enercon turbines, including the E40, the direct competitor to Kenetech’s KVS 33.

Kenetech collapsed in 1996 taking with it hundreds of employees. It failed the very day of that infamous dedication of the wind farm in Eemshaven, leaving the Dutch owners stranded.

Who said irony is dead.

Enercon has gone on to become a behemoth. Unfortunately, it’s struggling now along with the rest of the German wind industry as the country banks on more natural gas from Russia rather than pushing forward with renewables.

Oh sure, Germany continues to install wind and solar. But at one time Germany was the world leader in both fields. German policy first abandoned solar to the Chinese and it now looks like its trying to do the same with wind. This has left Enercon in the lurch as Enercon was the first choice of most German farmers and cooperatives. For now, they’re surviving but they plan to offshore more of their components as a result. Schade (too bad) as the Germans say.

As the pioneers of the wind industry age, retire, and die off, it’s good to see museums such as those in Germany and Denmark try to preserve some of the forerunners to the giants sweeping energy out of the wind today.

German Windpower Museum: Windpower you can touch. Mühlheide 14, D-32351 Stemwede-Oppendorf, Germany (Coordinates: N 52.449219   E 8.5025600).

On Exhibit

  • Bosman A-Ford
  • Dornier 5,5m
  • Tacke TW 1.5, prototype, operational
  • Lagerwey 10.6/20
  • Husumer Schiffswerft HSW 30
  • Krogmann 15/50
  • M.A.N Aeroman 12.5/20
  • Nordex N-27
  • Univ. of Apllied Science Wiesbaden “Trebur”
  • Windkaftzentrale Elektromat 10kW
  • Blade section, Köster Adler-25, 165kW

Awaiting Restoration

  • Elektro WV 35
  • Kukate
  • Vergnet GEV 6/5,5kW
  • Enercon-16, 55kW
  • Enercon-17, 80kW
  • Enercon-18, 80kW
  • Enercon-40, 500kW
  • Hilbig, homemade
  • Südwind N1237, 37kW
  • Claussen, 30kW, homemade
  • Brümmer BW120, 10kW
  • Niehaus, 30kW, homemade
  • Ventis 20-100, 100kW
  • NEW 100-25, 25kW
  • Lüneberg, HAWI-15, 15kW, homemade
  • WKA Mroz 16-55
  • Kenetech 33M-VS, 365kW
  • Bergey BWC Excel, 10kW