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Anders Vedel: Cooperation between industry and research community is a necessity to succeed

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By Maja Schrøder Kristensen, September 22, 2017

Anders Vedel, CTO of Vestas Wind Systems, is keynote speaker at this year’s WIND ENERGY DENMARK that merges technology, science, and product development within the wind industry. Danish Wind Industry Association met him for a talk about some of the central challenges facing the industry today and in the coming years – and how he sees the potential for the Danish wind industry to stay ahead in the fierce, global competition.

A need for further standardization

Competition continuously increases and the pressure on the industry to find smarter, cheaper and more sustainable solutions and technologies equally increases. One approach is through industrialization and standardization, which can pave the way for reductions in Levelized Cost of Energy (LCoE). Where and why do you see a crucial need for further standardization in the industry?

Although we have seen improvements over the past years, there is an opportunity and need for a much greater level of standardization across the value chain, streamlining supply chains and component design to achieve the economies of scale that we see in more mature industries.

Vestas is committed to taking the lead in industrializing the industry further. This includes encouraging suppliers to develop and deliver modules rather than single components, a development seen in other mature industries. Furthermore, we actively support the standardization across the industry along with competitors in order to reduce the cost base for the wind industry.
Cooperation between industry and research community

Megavind, the Danish national partnership for wind energy, is tasked with identifying areas of strategic importance where industry and research must join forces to develop new technologies and new methods. How do you view the cooperation between industry and research – are the ties close enough or do industry and research live separate lives?

Bringing together OEMs, research institutions and suppliers both in wind and from adjacent industries is crucial to continuing to drive down LCoE. It is a very important part of Vestas’ strategy to create R&D partnerships and to work closely with research institutes and universities. Doing this is part of ensuring we can stay in the forefront with our product development. So, an absolute necessity to succeed.

And how do we ensure that the entire value chain is activated in strategic research cooperation?

We constantly assess opportunities to reduce LCOE, not only on turbine level but also on plant level. As such, the industry is well aware of the opportunities and we have to make sure to share this insight with the research institutes and partners. At the same time, there is an opportunity for research institutes to reach out to the industry and share how they can add value.
More than upscaling to drive down LCoE

Next generation technologies will be one of the main focus areas of WIND ENERGY DENMARK, and in particularly we will look at the opportunities and challenges with upscaling. Through some time now, the industry has talked about multi megawatt wind turbines, but when will we see them?

Increased power rating and larger rotors will continue to be a key driver for lower cost of energy. There is, however, often a limit to the size of the turbines, and this is often due to legislation rather than technical capabilities of the industry. For offshore turbines, I believe we will continue to see a fast development in power rating and size to limit or optimize the very high installation and maintenance costs.

Is the industry at all geared to handle turbines and components of such a scale?

Yes, the industry is geared. The challenge is often regulatory rather than technical when it comes to increasing size. However, innovation in the industry has to focus on more than increasing size to continue to bring down the cost of energy.
 
Digitalization and its potentials

WIND ENERGY DENAMRK also zooms in on digitalization and the opportunities which the increased application of data creates. What are the largest potentials that digitalization creates for the industry and what does the industry stand to win through increased focus on digitalization?

Over the past decade, we have made significant investments in supercomputing analytics capabilities, most recently by integrating a very powerful new supercomputer. This has been the foundation for creating the highly data-driven business Vestas is today. We leverage on our data collection across our business, including development of new technologies and solutions, in value chain simulation and in optimizing our operations and maintenance performance. All elements that are contributing to driving down LCoE.

But, to continue the development within this area we need access to the right skills and competences, i.e. employees with the right knowledge, theoretical as well as business experience, and that is one of the key challenges. To be able to attract people with the right qualifications will be essential for competitiveness, especially within the digitalization area. This is at all times a priority area for us.

What are the future potentials in this area and how does the largely improved access to and harvest of data from the turbines come into play here?
There are opportunities across the whole value chain – from design and manufacturing to transport, installation, service and performance optimization throughout the turbines’ life.
An example with great potential is continuing to improve blade design. In 2017, we have launched larger rotors for both our 2 and 4 MW platform, designs which would not have been able to achieve without the access to data and calculating power we have today. This includes striking a balance between optimal aerodynamics and blade stability, while keeping both sound levels and weight low. Combined, this has allowed us to increase the swept area while keeping the need for upgrades to the nacelle to a minimum.
Danish wind industry and global competition

Denmark is known for its excellent R&D and testing facilities. Will we also see Denmark in the absolute forefront in the R&D area in the future? 

Denmark has a unique position due to the capabilities in wind and the fact that we have development, test facilities and production in close proximity. To keep our position, however, will require improving the framework for the industry, as many other countries are investing in attracting and developing wind power hubs.

For instance, we still see a need to further upgrade and expand the test facilities available to the industry. Market needs for a greater diversity of products, more complex technological solutions and intense pressure to reduce time to market means the current level of planned facilities will not be sufficient.

Competition is fierce, that is for sure. Other countries have seen the potential in wind and are trying to attract R&D investments within the field. However, Denmark still has a unique position, but of course we all – industry, government, research institutions – will have to improve and develop to stay ahead.

Vestas tops the list as a world leading wind turbine OEM in terms of market share, but there is an increased competition from e.g. Chinese and American OEMs. What are your thoughts on the future competition and how can Denmark stay ahead as a world leading wind power nation?

The success of the Danish wind industry is built on the ingenuity and innovation of both small and large companies. Encouraging this focus and willingness to invest in research and development, also from the political side, will be crucial to Denmark keeping its leading position.
As an example, 17 of 28 EU countries today have legislation that favors investment in R&D to a greater extent than the Danish system. We believe this has to change if Denmark is to succeed in a very tough international competition for R&D activities. In partnership with a number of other companies across industries, we have proposed that the tax deduction for R&D investments is increased to 150 per cent to match the level seen in a number of the countries around us. This would lead to greater productivity across the value chain in Denmark, create more jobs and increase exports. Moreover, it is absolutely essential to maintain a market for wind onshore and offshore in Denmark. This is necessary for the industry to develop and for Denmark to stay in the forefront of the green transition.
Strong Vestas presence at WIND ENERGY DENMARK 2017
Anders Vedel will be keynote speaker at the opening session of WIND ENERGY DENMARK on 2 October.

Vestas Wind Systems is strongly represented at the event, both as a main sponsor and exhibitor. This year, the “theme” of their exhibition stand is to stay ahead – both as an industry and as a company. The stand will showcase innovative solutions and products that will help drive down the cost of energy.

Vestas will showcasing how far they have come onshore: They have just recently introduced their upgraded 4MW platform, which is visible in all of Vestas’ visual communication at WED, and we encourage people to stop by their stand and learn more about this new innovative platform.

Vestas has also teamed up with MHI Vestas to showcase how far they have have come offshore through a Virtual Reality (VR) experience: VR technology enables Vestas to show the big scale of their projects and at the same time explain in an exciting way how it is to work on wind turbines.

The VR setup showcases the completion of the Burbo Bank Extension project, future projects and a small introduction to the uprated V164-9.5 MW. The mobile VR set-up enables Vestas to bring the VR experience around to the different exhibitions and conferences and thereby makes the experience more accessible to a wider audience.

Meet Vestas in Hall F, stand F46 in MCH Messecenter Herning on 2-3 October and get an up-close look at the world leading OEM’s latest technology and product development. See more on windenergydenmark.dk.

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