Global wind power giants Vestas and Orsted confirmed restrictions on staff travel in a bid to protect employees from the deadly coronavirus outbreak sweeping China, as an industry body warned a wider contagion could slow down progress of the regional offshore sector.
News of the travel restrictions emerged as Recharge revealed a senior power and renewables executive is among the early dead from the virus after a business trip to Wuhan, the virus's epicentre.
With 170 deaths and more than 7,700 confirmed cases by then, Vestas on Thursday said it was stopping all non-essential travel to China by its global workforce.
Like others western OEMs such as GE Renewable Energy and Siemens Gamesa, Vestas turbines have a small but significant share of the world’s biggest wind power market, and the Danish group has about 2,400 employees in China in commercial and manufacturing functions.
A Vestas spokesperson told Recharge: “The safety and well-being of our employees is our highest priority and we are taking all necessary precautions.
“Therefore, we are stopping all non-essential travel to China within the organisation, in accordance with the advice set by international health authorities, and providing guidance to all employees on preventing transmission through recommended precautionary measures.
We are closely monitoring the situation and ready to act.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and ready to act to mitigate any potential impact on our operations.”
Earlier on Thursday Orsted CEO Henrik Poulsen said the global offshore wind operator, which is active in neighbouring Taiwan, was also taking measures.
“So far we are quite comfortable about the safety of our staff, but we are imposing certain travel restrictions on our operations to ensure we do not expose our staff to any unnecessary risk,” said Poulsen, without giving further details.
Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, which employs about 1,300 in China, told Recharge: “We are monitoring the situation, and following the recommendations from the World Health Organization and the Chinese government.”
With the coronavirus now confirmed throughout mainland China, a prolonged epidemic and accompanying restrictions on movement would inevitably have an impact on activity in the Chinese domestic wind sector once normal business resumes after the holiday period.
Edgare Kerkwijk, CEO of the Asia Wind Energy Association, said it is still unclear how the wider region could be affected, especially in the highly international and mobile offshore wind sector.
Kerkwijk said: “I think that for the moment companies active in the offshore wind industry will potentially restrict travel to China and Hong Kong.
“The Chinese offshore wind industry is mainly being developed by itself and there are not many foreign companies active in China. Therefore, there is not much cross border travel with China for offshore wind.”
Kerkwijk added: “However, it will be different if the virus extends significantly to markets such as Taiwan and Japan. This will then have significant impact on regional travel for the offshore wind industry, and potentially could affect the start of construction and development of projects in Taiwan.
“For the moment, I think that companies are monitoring the situation and will follow the travel advice by the respective Asian and European governments.”