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Aalborg Energie Technik

Aalborg Energie Technik: The boiler business is booming

By Fiona Nicolson

Green methods of producing energy have experienced a surge in popularity over the last few years. As a result, many new companies have joined the renewable energy industry in recent times.
Aalborg Energie Technik: The boiler business is booming
Green methods of producing energy have experienced a surge in popularity over the last few years. As a result, many new companies have joined the renewable energy industry in recent times.
But Danish engineering and contracting company Aalborg Energie Technik A/S (AET) is not one of them, as Chief executive Hans Erik Askou who founded the company in 1996 along with two colleagues, explains: "The company we had been working for stopped making biomass boilers," he explains. "So, we decided to set up on our own, to develop and supply biomass fired plants."
The company they created today produces boilers which convert a wide range of biofuels into steam, power or heat. This means that its customers can generate energy from woodchips, wood-waste of nearly any kind, grown biomass fuel and even from meat and bone meal. This is beneficial for the environment, as it avoids using fossil fuels, reducing CO2 emissions from non-sustainable resources.
Since taking the decision to strike-out on their own, Askou and his colleagues have never looked back. AET has gone from strength to strength, growing in size from two employees to 70. Turnover is estimated to double in the two years ahead and a significant new business win is in the pipeline - AET is on the verge of signing its biggest contract to date to deliver a biomass power plant for a development company in Italy.
AET is currently celebrating another ambition achieved, as Askou reports: "We have been seeking to expand into the operation and maintenance of biomass plants, and recently won our first operation and maintenance contract in connection with a biomass power plant we are developing for a company in Wales."

THE CHALLENGES
Although AET has been highly successful to date, it has faced some tough hurdles along the way.
One of the main challenges relates to the supply chain: "There is a long lead time in the delivery of some of the most important components," says Askou. "And it has increased, as the market has grown and demand for the components has grown."
He adds: "Delivery time for turbines has doubled, which has created a number of problems for us. A few years ago it took us less than two years to complete a biomass plant. Now, we need three years, which we have to factor into the project plan from the outset."
Human resources issues have posed a few problems too. "It has been an ongoing challenge to ensure we have enough skilled employees to deliver the projects," Askou reports. "This has eased recently though, as industry growth has slowed a little, compared to the speed it had been increasing at previously. This is making it easier for us to find the right people."
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all lies in the nail-biting business of project management, especially in terms of timing. "There are a number of variables involved in the management of these projects. This creates high levels of uncertainty," says Askou.
These can present a number of headaches for the project developers and therefore AET as well, as he points out: "It can take a while to find the right site, then you have to get the planning permission, the finances and grid connection have to be arranged. It is always complicated."
And the current financial environment has placed a greater strain on project management: "The financing is taking even longer than usual at the moment, due to the credit crunch," he says.

POWERING AHEAD
Askou expects the company's successes to continue, and with good reason. "The market for our products looks very prosperous at the moment," he explains. "A wide range of organisations are seeking out our services, including utility companies, developers, particle board factories, paper mills, saw mills and furniture makers."
He believes there is a simple reason for the increasing demand. "Everyone wants to be "green" nowadays," he observes.
As a result of the spiralling growth in the market, AET is gearing itself up to double staff numbers within the next three to four years. The key staff it requires are engineers, technicians and supervisors.
Askou is looking for specific skill-sets: "Project management ability is vital," he emphasises. "This is a must in our line of work because there are so many different variables to coordinate".
Askou also requires a team approach from his staff: "Good teamwork is a necessity, because our people have to work together productively, in teams of 20-30, over considerable periods of time."

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
Staying at the forefront of this growing industry is one of the company's main aims. And although it has a number of competitors throughout Europe, Askou believes AET has some valuable competitive advantages. "Many of our team have been in this industry for 25-30 years, so we have a lot of experience," he confirms. "We also have a strong track record, with many satisfied customers."
A focus on customer needs has also contributed to the company's growth, as Askou observes: "We understand that our customers want their plants and boilers as soon as possible, so we ensure we always deliver on time. In fact, we make a point of delivering ahead of time, wherever we can."
AET also attends closely to customer needs in other ways. In its view, one size does not fit all. "Rather than using ready made packages of components, our in-house engineering capabilities allow us to tailor them more closely to customer requirements," says Askou.

THE FUTURE
AET projects tend to be sizeable and have a fairly long timescale. "We mainly work on large projects that take two to three years from start to completion," explains Askou. "Due to their size, we have tended to take on a maximum of about two per year".
However, Askou relishes the possibility of expanding the workload and is confident of the company's abilities to manage additional demand.
"So far, the size and timing of our projects has worked out well, in terms of resources available. But if more projects turned up at a time when we were already busy, we would be more than capable of taking them on.
"Having more clients than you expected is what every business hopes for!"
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