Megawind farm delivered off coast, but ‘much more needed to save climate’

Next week, the first of a series of large wind farms off the Dutch coast will be delivered in Zeeland. Borssele 1 & 2 will provide enough electricity for one million Dutch households.

Henrik Poulsen, Chairman of Orsteds Board, has transformed the former Danish oil and gas company DONG into sustainable Orsted over the past nine years. The company is responsible for the construction of the megawind farm at sea. All oil and gas operations have been divested and the company is now the world market leader in wind at sea. It not only builds wind farms for almost all countries on the North Sea but also in the United States and Asia.

Last year, Poulsen made an urgent plea at the UN climate meeting in New York to speed up the transition to renewable energy:

Nine years ago, during a financial crisis, Poulsen decided to completely change the helm. Wind at sea was then a small, but the most distinctive part of the company.

The money from the lucrative oil and gas extraction was used to mature the wind on sea branch. As the costs were decreasing due to the growing windmills, demand rose and construction of wind farms at sea became profitable.

Poulsen is modest about his success with wind at sea. โ€œIf you had asked me in 2012 if we could have achieved this by 2020, I would probably have found it too ambitious. Sometimes you see that the choice of a strategy develops its own momentum. When it turned out to be a financial success, we continued to accelerate.โ€

Orsted is the neighbour of Shell in Zeeland, which together with Eneco and Van Oord will soon deliver the wind farm Borssele 3 & 4. The Dutch multinational was involved in the construction of the first wind farm off the coast of Egmond aan Zee in 2007 but subsequently withdrew from the wind industry.

Shell is now working on a comeback and will build a wind farm off the coast of North Holland with Eneco. Poulsen is kind to the neighbor: โ€œWe made a bold choice and took a big strategic risk. Now that things have ended well, you can ask why not everyone has done so, but I can understand why companies have made a different decision.โ€

The fact that the world market leader in wind at sea comes from Denmark is not accidental and stems from the oil crisis in the 1970s. While in the Netherlands we were able to skate on the highway on car-free Sundays, Denmark decided that it wanted to become less dependent on foreign countries for energy supplies. That choice led to the first wind farm at sea 30 years ago. After numerous mergers of companies that make wind turbines, the largest two; Siemens Gamesa and MHI Vestas now have huge factories in Denmark.

Look below for an impression of Denmarks wind industry:

โ€œ Wind energy has been supported by Danish politics for a long time and we were in a different situation than the Netherlands with huge gas fields in Groningen in particular,โ€ explains Poulsen the backlog of the Netherlands in terms of renewable energy with Denmark. โ€œThe Netherlands got into the competition a little late, but since the 2013 Energy Agreement, it has started to accelerate. Especially with the plans for 11 gigawatt wind at sea.โ€ These plans should result in 70% of the electricity in the Netherlands being sustainable by 2030.

If there is another late party next year to open the wind farm in the Netherlands, Poulsen is not present. He leaves and becomes advisor for sustainability at Maersks parent company; a large Danish group employing 80,000 people and owner of the largest container shipping company in the world.

For his current employer it is busy times, thinks Poulsen. European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans presented plans this week to build 25 times as many wind farms at sea as there are today. This will require an investment of EUR 800 billion over the next 30 years.

Poulsen thinks it can be done: โ€œThe North Sea can produce hundreds of gigawatts of electricity, the capacity is there, the space is there, the technology is there and it is profitable. We have what we need, we just need to speed up, politicians need to stand up and set effective sustainable energy targets to meet the Paris climate targets.โ€