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Wichita firm finds niche in small wind energy

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010, at 12:06 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010, at 6:10 a.m.

With the aircraft industry down for months, if not years, at least one Wichita aircraft subcontractor is trying its luck in the wind energy market.

Electromech Technologies, 2600 S. Custer, makes electrical motors and actuators for airplanes.

Greg Jessup, vice president for new product development at Electromech, said company executives decided early on against getting into the commercial-scale side of wind energy, such as becoming a supplier to companies like Siemens.

The company isn't physically set up to make large components, Jessup said, and decided it didn't want to spend the money to do so.

So it's focusing on the small end of the wind energy market, called small wind, with turbines ranging from those for a single home to a large factory.

In the past year, Electromech has built prototypes of generators for 1- and 5-kilowatt turbines, although it plans to build them up to 25 kilowatts.

The company expects to sell the generators, and possibly the turbine's electronics, to an original equipment manufacturer. The OEM would sell the turbines to the public.

To learn more about the market and potential partners, executives traveled to a November conference on small wind in Detroit.

What they found is a niche. Generators for small wind turbines appear largely to be made overseas, which means higher transportation costs and more difficult product support.

"I saw zero makers of U.S. generators," Jessup said. "And several people came up to us and said, 'You are the only ones in the country.' There was a lot of interest."

He said Electromech executives estimate the generators could provide a healthy bit of diversification for the company.

"We're not going to say we'll sell $100 million," he said. "But if we start at $2 million or $3 million a year, that would be nice."

He estimated it would boost the firm's sales by about 10 percent.

But wind is new, and plenty of questions remain, Jessup said. For one, it appears their prototype would be too expensive for the market. They are tweaking the design to lower costs.

They don't know who they will sell to, or how it will be marketed, he said.

But company executives remains confident they are close.

"We see an opportunity and are planning on taking advantage of it," he said.

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com.

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