A Low Wind Blows Fair as Knight & Carver Shipyard Sails Into Wind Turbine Business

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the same place,” Brown says. “So we think we have a really good design that we’re ready to commercialize.”

The company’s timing appears nearly perfect. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration proposed setting new federal renewable energy standards that would require 25 percent of the nation’s electricity to come from wind turbines and other renewable energy sources by the year 2025. While Congress already has substantially lowered the President’s goal in its own proposal, the administration also is rolling out millions of dollars in tax incentives for installing and producing renewable energy as part of the federal economic stimulus plan.

With such federal incentives, the future of wind energy at Knight & Carver looks especially promising. But that wasn’t always the case. Brown tells me that repairing fiberglass wind turbine blades was just “a little teeny piece of the yacht business” when he stepped in to head Knight & Carver 2001. “When I came into the business one of the things we saw was that the business of repairing wind turbine blades not only had potential growth, but it was a profitable,” Brown says.

sam-brownIn 2006, Brown spun out the Knight & Carver Wind Group as a separate entity, and in 2007, the specialized wind energy company landed a $12.5 million investment by the Global Environment Fund, a cleantech-focused private equity fund based in Chevy Chase, MD.

Brown declined to provide the wind group’s annual revenue. But he says the company’s sales increased 400 percent from 2006 to 2007, and doubled from 2007 to 2008. Even after the collapse of the capital markets, which stalled financing for many windfarm projects, Brown says he still expects this year’s sales to be about 20 percent higher than in 2008.

Brown finds the opportunity in offshore wind turbines especially attractive for the Knight & Carver Wind Group, in part because the capabilities and facilities available at the Knight & Carver Yacht Center. While the two private companies are separate entities, Brown is a part owner in both companies, along with the families of founders John Knight and Hugo Carver, and serves as the president and CEO of both businesses. The nine-acre shipyard’s facilities include a 330-ton crane capable of lifting 155-foot vessels, a 90,000-square-foot enclosed hangar, dock space, and railroad delivery capabilities. “Your cost of energy goes down as the size of your turbine gets bigger,” Brown explains, and the offshore market offers the opportunity to develop 2.5-megawatt wind turbines driven by 165-foot-long blades. “It’s hard to use the highway system to transport blades that big,” he explains.

It almost seems as if an extraordinary confluence of circumstances enabled the shipyard to pursue an alternate path into the wind energy business. But Brown says Knight & Carver is hardly an isolated case. “LM Glasfiber in Denmark is the largest manufacturer of wind blades in the world, and they started out as a boat-builder,” Brown says. “TPI Composites in Rhode Island started out as a yacht company, and then there’s Abeking & Rasmussen,” a German yacht-builder that has expanded into wind energy.

As Brown puts it, “Our core competency in blade design comes from the same core competencies that we have in designing and building boats. So our transition from yachts to wind has been done before.”

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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