Its wooden blades and green mast blend easily into the landscape: The windmill built by EAZ Wind, who hail from the northern Dutch city of Groningen. The windmill is already being used by hundreds of farmers in the Netherlands. “Mine has been up for six months, and farmers from the neighborhood now want one too,” says farmer Koen Spruit.
With the shifts in the energy landscape and the pressure on the agricultural sector to rapidly go green, the demand for the windmills is still steadily rising. Although EAZ Wind has grown into a fully-fledged company with a reputation on the international market, it did start small in the far north of the Netherlands. “The idea for the windmills originated on a farmyard in Groningen, when one of the five founders, Sjouke Ritsema, built the first windmill for his father,” says Timo Spijkerboer, co-founder and CEO of the company. “The neighbors turned out to like it too, and that’s how we kept on growing. We now have 50 people working for our company and we’ve already installed more than 450 windmills.”
Energy whenever farmers need it
Further development of the windmill is not standing still either. In the meantime, an improved version of it has been launched on the market. The new version, the 13.2, is 15 meters high and the blades are made of larch wood. With proper maintenance, the windmills can last for decades. And there is an additional advantage: “The windmill supplies the farmer with energy whenever they need it. The new type even generates 25 percent more,” says Spijkerboer. The combination with solar panels means energy is supplied all year round. Through sun in the summer, and wind in the winter. This makes it an attractive option for farms.
‘Farmers are interested in a total package’
Over the past years, several companies have taken the initiative to manufacture small wind turbines in the Netherlands. Yet none of them have succeeded in scaling up. According to Spijkerboer, EAZ Wind’s success has everything to do with its innovative approach. “We saw that, besides the construction of the windmill, there are other aspects that are at least as important. We build the windmill, apply for subsidies and talk to our neighbors about what the windmill can mean to them. That total package, that’s what the farmer is interested in.”
A simple, robust design
Aside from that, the company was able to scale up by using a design that was as simple and robust as they could make it. According to Spijkerboer, it is anything but practical to make a miniature version of large wind turbines. “Then you end up with an incredibly complex device. You might be able to achieve a high yield with that, but it would also make the turbine unnecessarily expensive.” The EAZ windmill is consequently free of complicated control mechanisms. “The design of the windmill was deliberately made as simple as possible. This means that the windmill is easy to build and maintain, and the price is also attractive.”
But the windmill is definitely not old-fashioned. In fact, it actually features a sophisticated monitoring system. “Data is sent to us every fifteen minutes. We then look at the farmer’s energy consumption, at the generation from sun and wind, and at the movements of the turbine.” This makes it easy to predict when the windmill is due for a new maintenance check. The farmer also gets access to their own data when they purchase the windmill. “They can easily see on the app how much energy they are generating and using.”
Farmer Spruit: setting an example for the farmers in the neighbourhood
Koen Spruit is a farmer and runs a farm together with his parents and his wife in Zegveld, which is in the middle of the Green Heart of the Netherlands. With his 90 dairy cows and everything else involved, it is extremely important to him that the energy supply on the farm is stable. That is why he had an EAZ windmill installed six months ago. “I’ve always worked on greening the farm as much as I can,” says Spruit. “We are facing an important task as an agricultural sector and we really need to get rid of fossil fuels. Which is why we made the choice to switch to EAZ Wind’s wind turbine. Nowadays, we have access to a green, regular source of energy.”
Three years ago -during a barbecue with farmers from the surrounding neighborhood and while enjoying a beer- the idea to actually purchase the windmill was hatched. “Quite honestly, I didn’t think that a windmill would be for me. I wasn’t keen on it, not until I stumbled upon the windmill from Groningen. Now I’m extremely happy that I took the plunge.” Indeed, Spruit has always been fascinated by the weather and the windmill only reinforces that. “I often sit and watch the windmill. Then I check out the wind direction and the direction in which the windmill is moving. That’s just cool to see.”
Spruit hopes to be an example to other farmers in the area, and that seems to be working out. ” Already there are permit applications from farmers in the neighborhood. I think within two years there will be a number of new windmills appearing along the streets.” And speaking of setting an example, “For me, the most important thing is that my children look back later on what my wife and I have done. I want them to look back with pride on our projects that center around sustainability.”
For now, most of EAZ Wind’s customers can be found in the Netherlands, but the company’s expansion abroad is in full swing. “In the meantime, we have already installed windmills in Germany and Belgium. If I look at the permit applications, we’ll have a lot more to do in the next two years,” says Spijkerboer. The CEO dares to dream big and hopes to eventually supply all the farmyards in the world with green energy. “As long as the sun and wind continue to alternate with each other in a country, and as long as the cost of manufacturing the turbines continues to come down, I definitely see possibilities!”