Wind Lidar – How it all began, a potted history of ZephIR Lidar

Home » Wind Lidar – How it all began, a potted history of ZephIR Lidar

Zephir Ltd. (ZephIR Lidar) delivers award-winning[1], market-leading remotely measuring wind sensors (remote sensors / remote sensing devices RSDs / Lidar[2]) based on laser technology.

The strategic focus of ZephIR Lidar has been the commercial application of Lidar technology in the global wind industry[3], within the growing renewable energy sector, where measurements of wind characteristics are the cornerstone of wind farm developments, operation and optimisation.

Within this application, ZephIR Lidar has established 3 core product streams:

The team designed, developed and offered commercially the first wind Lidar in 2003. Moreover, the team created an initial un-competed market place (a Blue Ocean[4]).

Zephir Ltd. was founded in 2007 and its sole shareholder is UK company Fred. Olsen Ltd, founded in 1963. The first employee of ZephIR Lidar, Ian Locker, operates as the company’s Managing Director.

Rapid growth in the wind industry combined with ZephIR Lidar’s innovative Continuous Wave lidar technology has triggered a chain of products and partnerships. It offers ZephIR 300 for ground-based vertical profiling of the wind, ZephIR 300M for wind measurements offshore and ZephIR DM for turbine-mounted horizontal profiling of the wind approaching a wind turbine.

ZephIR Lidar’s vision statement[5], from the outset, was “a wind lidar on every commercial wind project and integrated into every large wind turbine”.

ZephIR Lidar’s commitment to such a Big Hairy Audacious Goal[6] is demonstrated through a decade of trail-blazing and Blue Ocean market creation.

Today, ZephIR Lidar is a leading provider of wind lidar products and services:


Although wind lidar was first developed in the 1970s for meteorology, aviation and military research, ZephIR was the first such system suitable for meeting the demands of the wind industry.  Hence it had to be capable of operation by non-experts, and sufficiently rugged for autonomous use over many months in hostile locations typical of wind farms including mountains, deserts, the arctic and offshore. ZephIR achieved these aims through its innovative design exploiting technology from the telecommunications industry, and developed by ZephIR’s Chief Scientist Mike Harris and team within European R&D Powerhouse, QinetiQ[7]

1970 – 2000

Decades of research into laser applications at the Royal Radar Establishment[8], Royal Signals and Radar Establishment[9], Defence Research Agency[10], Defence Evaluation and Research Agency[11] and ultimately QinetiQ[12] combined with the emergence of the commercial telecomms[13] industry resulted in the opportunity for a low-cost lidar product to remotely sense wind characteristics via measurement of  the Doppler[14] shift of light emitted by the lidar and scattered back from particles in the atmosphere such as dust, moisture and pollen.

This ability to remotely measure and interrogate the wind field offered many potential applications where it was practically difficult or financially impractical to install infrastructure to mount existing anemometry e.g. cup anemometers[15]

During this period of time a significant portfolio of Intellectual Property was developed in the field of lidar.

2001 – 2002

Working at QinetiQ in the role of Channel Manager for Renewables, Ian Locker and colleague Dave Smith identified a significant market opportunity for the newly developed wind lidar technology by offering an alternative to meteorological met masts / measurement towers[16] in the development and operation of wind farms[17]. In an era of the emergence of wind farms, Locker and Smith identified two clear Blue Ocean opportunities for Harris’ wind lidar:

In January 2002, shortly after they first made contact with each other, Locker and Harris presented their vision of lidar in wind energy to industry experts Garrad Hassan at their offices in Bristol, U.K. The outcome was a clear view of the stringent requirements such a system must fulfil in order to convince sceptical customers that there was a genuine potential market. Work began at pace between Locker, Smith, Harris and a gathered team of Engineers and Scientists to produce the first commercially available wind lidar in order to demonstrate the benefits the technology could offer to these opportunities. System design and development was led by Systems Engineer Adrian Coffey.


The first wind lidar based on a simplified design using telecoms components was installed in 2003 on a Nordex[18] wind turbine in Germany to provide wind information 100m in front of the rotor disk. The QinetiQ team successfully demonstrated the technology and achieved a second world-first in the installation on a turbine of a wind lidar.

The trial with Nordex demonstrated that a low-cost system could be installed to provide information on wind speed and wind direction at ranges of up to several hundred metres in front of the wind turbine.


While analysis continued on data from the wind turbine deployment, the team began to tackle the requirement of a ground-based wind lidar capable of profiling the wind above the system at heights of up to several hundred metres above ground.

The product was named ZephIR – a portmanteau or blend of words:

The ground-based ZephIR wind lidar was successfully launched and demonstrated to a range of technical parties worldwide. One key party, known as the “Godfathers of wind energy”, DTU Wind Energy[21] (formerly Risø) began the start of a relationship with the ZephIR team that continues today resulting in an entire department working in the field of wind lidar. Many key individuals within the wind industry today started at DTU undertaking PhDs around the use of ZephIR systems delivered from 2004 onwards.

Adrian Coffey, 26 July 1968 – 30 August 2006

During the development of ZephIR as both a business and a stream of products, one of the most significant contributions was made by Systems Engineer Adrian Coffey. The original system architecture through to many of the world-first deployments of ZephIR lidars was undertaken by Coffey, and he very much represented what team ZephIR is about.

Adrian sadly passed away on the 30th August 2006. The effect his work and enthusiasm had within ZephIR is however felt, and greatly missed, to this day.


With the overwhelming positive industry response to these turbine-mounted and ground-based ZephIR wind lidars, the QinetiQ team committed to the development of a small fleet of systems – known as the model version ZephIR 150, the ‘150’ identifying the measurement range in metres of the unit above / in front of installed location.

The permanent Product Development team quickly grew to incorporate many of the individuals who remain within the ZephIR Lidar company today including Gary Ellis, Carl Barrow, Paul Hadley, Mark DB Jones and Alex Woodward.

The ZephIR team delivered a fleet of ZephIR 150 wind lidars to key wind industry players including wind farm developers, consultants, turbine manufacturers and research institutes through 2006 and 2007 including: Germanischer Lloyd[22] (now DNV GL), DTU, Meridian Energy[23], Natural Power[24], Fred. Olsen Renewables[25], CRES[26], UMASS[27].

The contribution that these initial ZephIR 150’s played in forming the wind lidar industry today cannot be overstated. Significant bodies of wind data collected by these lidars have been used in research papers, articles and as the foundation of entirely new technology developments in the following decades.

During this period the team continued their ‘world-firsts’ with:

In 2007, following the successful development and demonstration of ZephIR wind lidar technology, Fred. Olsen Ltd. (through their renewable energy consultancy Natural Power, based in south west Scotland) purchased an exclusive license to the wind lidar and Zephir Ltd. was formed with Ian Locker as Managing Director. Zephir Ltd. was quickly bolstered in several areas with the appointment of former QinetiQ employee Alex Woodward to progress the company’s product portfolio and Matt Smith, a commercial player with a wealth of experience at regional development agencies in piecing together complex solutions.


With a newly established company, the insight of a leading and well-respected wind consultancy, and a lidar product development team based in Malvern, Worcestershire, team ZephIR swiftly began the development of a new, more compact, lower cost lidar under the project leadership of Woodward and Richard Scullion. Encompassing the 5 years experience from the ZephIR 150 and enhanced ZephIR 175 models with a developed set of requirements from the market itself, ZephIR 300[28] was launched, a completely re-developed technology from the original lidars.

The launch of ZephIR 300 was heralded as a ‘new era of wind lidar’[29]:

“ZephIR 300 has been subjected to extensive reliability and safety testing over the past months. All systems are validated against a calibrated 90-m met mast providing the traceability required by wind engineers. In addition, Natural Power possess over 25 GW of technical project experience from site prospecting to quantitative wind resource assessments – a background which ensures all of our product innovations are fit for market. ZephIR 300 truly is designed by wind engineers for wind engineers.”


Following the market adoption of ZephIR 300 between 2010 and 2012, a key event triggered further expansion of the lidar marker as a whole – the use of ZephIR 300 for the formal assessment of wind resource without the need of the incumbent met mast technology was declared ‘Accepted’ by Garrad Hassan[30] (now DNV GL). ZephIR 300 was the first lidar technology to receive this level of acceptance within the industry in October 2012. Additional lidar and remote sensing manufacturers, seeing the acceptance of ZephIR lidar technology, were able to capitalise on the Blue Ocean, a path now well trodden by ZephIR Lidar.

With many wind farm developers now working with ZephIR 300 to progress their wind farms it was also in 2012 that the first wind farm was to be financed using a combination of ZephIR 300’s and very short met masts.

The ground-based wind lidar market now in full swing, so with Locker’s first market opportunity being addressed, the team began to focus once again on the second opportunity of installing lidars on wind turbines.


When considering the market opportunity for replacing ground-based met masts with ground-based lidars, the requirements were reasonably well understood. Measure higher, operate across a wind farm site and be cost effective.

The requirements for mounting a forward-facing lidar on a wind turbine however were not so well defined. There was in fact a significant breadth in the requirements depending on the turbine, the site, the owner and the consultant analysing the collected data. Any measurements taken may also be required to be correlated to a ground-based measurement in addition. It was soon very clear that a premium research tool offered many strengths for this market opportunity rather than the more commoditised ZephIR 300 in the ground-based market – ZephIR DM[31] (Dual Mode) was born.

A fleet of ZephIR DM wind lidars have been delivered to turbine manufactures, wind farm owners and research institutes in addition to consultants who are able to build specific services around the ability to deploy on a wind turbine. The applications for these lidars include:


Within the maturing wind industry a growth in the offshore wind farm market was observed and the ZephIR team once again turned their focus on this niche area of the nominally ground-based market to replace met masts. Offshore, the cost and logistics of installing a met mast are significant when comparing to onshore installations. Foundations for the met mast alone are expensive undertakings requiring £10m+ investments at sites that may or may not progress to wind farm developments. The ZephIR Engineering team quickly embraced the challenge and, led by former automotive engineer Ewan Abbott, launched ZephIR 300M[32] (for Marine) a specifically optimised variant of ZephIR 300 for the offshore environment.

Today, ZephIR 300M is the industry standard lidar offshore available on 100% of commercially available floating platforms (buoys) which remove the need for expensive foundations on the seabed and simply float at a potential site, tethered to the sea bed.


Further world-firsts are secured by ZephIR Lidar including:


  1. (2013-07-08). “ZephIR Lidar win prestigious Institute of Physics Innovation Award -“. ZephIR Lidar. Retrieved 2017-03-16.
  2. “Lidar”. Wikipedia. 2017-03-08.
  3. “Wind power industry”. Wikipedia. 2015-07-06.
  4. “Blue Ocean Strategy”. Wikipedia. 2017-03-10.
  5. “ZephIR Vision Statement” (PDF).
  6. “Big Hairy Audacious Goal”. Wikipedia. 2017-01-06.

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