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50 Innovative Companies to Watch 2019

Delivering energy in harmony with nature’s beauty: Chava Wind

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CHAVA Wind LLC is an innovator in the field of future energy technology Research and Development. The company believes that green ROI does not require sacrificing style or making the surrounding community feel good about green energy. Combining German Engineering and American innovation, CHAVA
literally means “earth”.

The efforts of its global team aim for a new approach to the energy business, balancing today’s centralized and monopolized energy industry with consumer-oriented market solutions.

A colloquy with the founder of Chava, Hagen Ruff”

What led to the inception of the company?

We launched the Chava Wind project in 2013 (with the company formation following in February of 2014) with a specific mission: “Making Small Wind Mainstream.” We received specific needs for on-site generation Vertical Axis Wind Turbines from Japan. There is a growing global trend for decentralized power generation, and this trend is now slowly extending into ‘point-of-use’ generation directly at the customer site.

Our technology finds useful applications in 2 major scenarios:

  • Grid-connected ‘co-generation’ to offset the cost of power at retail rates. This scenario is most economical in areas with good winds and relatively high retail power cost (i.e. most islands, Australia, Northern Germany, Netherlands, Britain, Ireland, Japan, etc.)
  • Off-grid mode in conjunction with battery storage. This scenario is most commonly
    used in hybrid mode with PV in a so-called “micro-grid” This mode usually replaces high-pollution and high-cost Diesel generators.

We know that our ‘Small Wind’ 25KW Windleaf25a VAWT (or Vertical Axis Wind Turbine) will not solve the planet’s energy predicament alone. However, we created a product that we believe is beautiful enough for people to accept living around it. So we hope to bring new and visible ‘fresh wind’ into the somewhat stagnant image of the current Small Wind market. Our product is small (up to 20 households per turbine) and designed for decentral deployment, even off-grid. It might not replace large-scale central power plants, but it will demonstrate to people that the shift to clean energy does not have to be painful or ugly.

How successful was your first project roll out? Share the experience.

Going into this project, we fully understood the challenges of previous VAWT developments regarding inherent vibrations, harmonics, structural stresses, and bearing failures. It ultimately became an engineering challenge by using the most modern composite materials, making small but crucial structural improvements, and most importantly, develop a software control system that ‘smart senses’ the key challenges and proactively avoids any potential harm to the components.

The high-efficiency type of VAWTs called “Darrieus Type” (which is a lift design) are required to operate in their optimal so-called “Tip-Speed-Ratio” (TSR), which is the ratio between the wind-speed and blade-speed, in order to maintain its highest efficiency. In ever-changing natural winds at low elevations, this is not a trivial task to achieve, and none of the previous products ever addressed that issue sufficiently. Our software control system took over 2 years to fully develop, and it ensures that the turbine always operates in the optimal TSR, and automatically adjusts to constantly changing wind conditions in the most efficient way.

After we have obtained the final international IEC certification for our 25KW product, our team will continue to make improvements, work on cost reductions, and also launch the development of a 100KW version for larger industrial applications, or larger communities.

What challenges did you face in your initial years?        

Although we brought in numerous industry experts from across the world to contribute to this project, we grossly underestimated the magnitude of the international IEC 64100-2 certification effort. Even though our product is classified as a “Small Wind” generator, it extends to nearly 30 meters in height with a rotor diameter of over 9 meters. A certified device of that size needs to comply with countless safety features to obtain the certification.

We initially funded the project from start to certification with $3M for an anticipated duration of 3 years. We just completed all necessary certification testing in Iowa in March 2019, which has now taken 5 years and over $6M. But the interest in our project is unbroken, and we are confident that the budget overrun will pay off rather quickly once production has kicked into full gear.

How do you stay relevant to the consumer interests and needs in this highly volatile market?

In contrast to “Large Wind” projects, which require a high-capacity utility grid connection and long-term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with utilities, our VAWT is more of a direct consumer product. Changes in overarching utility regulations won’t affect our product as much as it does with big wind since we can sell to pretty much any region in the world and therefore adapt to changing market conditions by shifting focus to other locations.

What is the future roadmap of your company?

At this point, we are solely focused on the market launch of our 25KW version. But after that, our team will regain the capacity to launch the development of a 100KW version for larger industrial applications, or larger communities.

Our goal is to be known as the market leader for commercial Small Wind Turbines throughout the world. There are many locations globally where Small Wind makes economic sense but this industry needed an inspiring product to emerge from its niche status.

The Trailblazer

Hagen Ruff, Founder, and CEO:

Hagen Ruff graduated with an MS in Mechanical Engineering in Germany and started his career in Management/IT Consulting with Accenture, formerly Andersen Consulting. After various projects throughout Europe and Asia, Mr. Ruff moved to the US in 1996 to work for the New York office of a National SAP Consulting firm. After large-scale projects on the US East Coast, Texas, and California, Mr. Ruff founded Business Information Solutions LLC (BIS), a consulting firm specialized in Business Intelligence Applications for Fortune 500 clients. BIS was sold to Sapient Corporation (now Publicis Sapient) in 2005 and Mr. Ruff left the firm to set up a new company focusing on new energy technology research, Chava Energy, and subsequently Chava Wind.

“We believe wind power can be good looking, and good for your bottom line. We deliver wind power solutions that combine graceful aesthetics and good economics for the ‘Small Wind’ VAWT segment. These solutions help our customers gain a competitive advantage in harmony with their neighbors.”