The founders of sowento are committed to advanced control solutions and the latest simulation techniques for designing sustainable energy systems for tomorrow. The cradle of the company, which is headquartered in Stuttgart with offices in Flensburg and Delft, is the Chair of Wind Energy (SWE) at the University of Stuttgart.
The current managing director, Dr. Steffen Raach, recalls: "In our research group, the idea of spinning off a company had been around for a long time. We founders, five of us, worked together, got along well and finally decided: We're doing this now." While some colleagues moved to the north, where there are many job opportunities for wind energy experts, Steffen Raach, David Schlipf, Florian Haizmann, Holger Fürst and Frank Lemmer stayed in the south. The founders visited the Technologie-Transfer-Initiative GmbH of the University of Stuttgart (TTI), the central contact point for people interested in founding a company from the university. There they received information and assistance on all important points for their further path.
Company founders initially continued their research at the institute in parallel
"As a spin-off of the institute, we signed a sponsorship agreement with TTI, and then we were ready to go," says Raach. At the same time, the company founders continued to research and work at the institute. However, they all thoroughly enjoyed the extra work, he emphasizes, and continues, "From the very beginning, we financed everything ourselves, and we were able to start from a fairly secure position thanks to our industry contacts." No wonder, since what sowento has to offer primarily concerns new technologies that are not offered in this form by other engineering consultants.
Link between research and industry
The portfolio of sowento's multidisciplinary team includes wind energy technologies - for onshore and offshore turbines as well as for platforms in the sea or wind farms - feasibility studies, simulations, software solutions, system design and analysis, control engineering and data evaluation. "We see ourselves as a link between research and industry," explains Steffen Raach, referring to one of the company's major successes: "For the Chinese wind turbine manufacturer Goldwind, we were able to provide the first wind turbine with lidar control." Lidar technology, a laser-optical remote sensing method, makes it possible to determine wind speeds at a distance. All control parameters of the wind turbine can thus be adjusted to the wind field before it reaches the turbine. As a result, wind-induced loads can be reduced, wind turbines can be built with less material and their energy yield can be increased. The same technology is also very useful for floating offshore turbines. The novel free-floating turbines are sowento's second mainstay. For them, the independent engineers offer advanced simulation studies and controllers.
David Schlipf and Frank Lemmer have received several awards for their doctoral theses. David Schlipf, who now holds a professorship at Flensburg University of Applied Sciences, works at sowento in the area of "Lidar technology for wind turbines", Frank Lemmer heads the area of "Floating turbines".
Along with the founding of sowento GmbH, the move into own office space was on the agenda in 2018. "But that was just the start; in the meantime, we have colleagues working in a wide variety of locations," says Steffen Raach, emphasizing the effective collaboration of the international team, which is made up of eight engineers and also students. At sowento, the pandemic was noticed early - long before the virus arrived in Europe, Asian partners had to go into lockdown. Despite the adverse circumstances and the resulting challenges, Steffen Raach can certainly report successes this year. For example, sowento was able to win an important Carbon Trust JIP project on modeling and standards for floating offshore wind turbines.
No regrets about self-employment
"I have never regretted taking the step into self-employment," says Steffen Raach. Being able to shape things myself, take responsibility, be flexible - that's worth a lot. And then there is the wind energy community with its open and friendly cooperation, which is also lived at sowento. The contact with customers is characterized by trust, and their problems are approached in a solution-oriented and transparent manner. As goals for the future, Steffen Raach explains that they want to advance the topics of sustainability and renewable energies through innovations.