Coming into this role after 15 years with Vestas you must certainly have a good understanding of a big part of the DNA of MHI Vestas, but how have your expectations measured up in your first days at co-CEO?
I’m trying to set aside how I have seen things from the ‘outside’, if you will, and be open to questions and [to] listen carefully – though I have come from Vestas, this is a new role to me. What I have seen in MHI Vestas [in the first week in the new job] reminds me a great deal of the engagement and the feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself – that passion and energy is something which I remember distinctly from my early days at Vestas.
I have the strong impression from the people I’ve met … in the canteen as well in the boardroom, that they want to do something extraordinary for the company and for the [offshore wind] industry.
More specifically, coming from Vestas, where we spent years streamlining processes, you also do see that offshore wind is still going through a maturation process. You sense in many conversations that there is a particular pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit – something you still have at Vestas but within a highly efficient, streamlined [OEM] – and this I would imagine is because offshore has a few fewer years under its belt as an industry.
True as it is that the offshore wind industry compared to onshore by most any measure – installed capacity – 23GW to 600GW, build rate, investment levels and so on – is still a much smaller one, but we’ve all read the market forecasts, most recently the IEA’s [International Energy Agency], that point to 500GW [of offshore plant] online by mid-century and yearly investment in the hundreds of billions of euros, and this is clearly a sector that is on the brink of a long-running boom. What from your Vestas years do you think will most inform your approach to the offshore market at this stage in its evolution?
The last seven years I led the global product management strategy at Vestas, which has left me with a very clear view on serial production, market dynamics and most of all that you always should have a long-term plan, with a well-defined ‘step-by-step’ to get there. Of course, listening to your customers is key – you can’t hope to sit in your office and bumble it out internally. The more careful you are in having all your stakeholders aligned, the faster you will execute, whether it’s a new turbine or a wind farm delivery.
One of the curiosities of the last five years in the offshore wind industry is that unprecedented, state-of-the-art technologies continue to be developed but ultimately where we are eventually aiming to be is in a situation where turbines have become an ‘off-the-shelf’ commodity that are standardised and mass produced – almost an afterthought to a developer building a wind farm. The offshore industry still doubtless has more to learn from onshore here.
A big part of product development is about a rigid system [once a turbine design is finalised] – quality checks and attention to detail in the engineering process. The sooner a product is proven the sooner it can make its way into the market and the faster it can see adoption. That is extremely important as the offshore wind industry moves into a period of rapid industrialisation.
And this will inform the true globalisation of the industry to come, beyond the regionally determined elements – local content, port infrastructure, skilled work forces and so on …
That is one of the things that is going to change a great deal in the coming years and we will have to adapt to. To this point offshore wind has been a mainly North Seas-centred. Now that it is globalising, it is truly exciting, with huge opportunities for the various players, the ones, that is, that can balance global manufacturing footprint and local supply chains and different regional markets.
The V164, when it was unveiled in London in 2011 as a 7MW, was characterised by then-CEO Ditlev Engle as an “epic” new technology and – along with what Siemens Gamesa has done with its 6MW – now scaled up to 10MW – so it has been in motivating the industry to think about a different scale of offshore wind build out. Not only was the V164 the biggest turbine on the block but it represented a industrial cultural change too, I’d suggest. What are you reflections, looking back to that product launch?
From my past experience, I have generally been surprised how well the industry the has been able to push through the boundaries in developing technology – and that’s not just scale-up, it is also cost-out at the same time. Every time a turbine is launched, you know there is always ‘more’ in this product.
The V164 started as what we thought would be the biggest needed offshore, but there have so many improvements made – rotor-size and rating but some many other elements too, not least the digitalisation of the turbine. That has always impressed me – both from my days with Vestas but also seeing the offshore sector moving forward as quickly as it has in recent years.
This will remain the case, in my opinion. And this is especially necessary offshore, where the investments are quite high when it comes to developing new turbines and we need to see a decent return on each [turbine] platform.