We sat down with Sven Thiesen to discuss the trends and challenges in the European wind market, touching on the significance of digitalisation, the ageing European fleet and the impact of legislation and policy.
Hi Sven, would you be able to tell us about yourself and your career so far?
I’m a German national – after graduating from University there, work took me quickly to London. In 2000 I started with BP Group with various marketing and sales roles and from there I became European Wind Sector manager for Castrol. After this, I gained global account management experience with two large equipment manufacturers.
Moving to the US, it was interesting to get deeper into the renewable sphere with BP’s venture business for investing in non-carbon businesses.
My work internationally, combined with my knowledge of the wind sector and experiences in driving operational growth, meant it was a natural move over to ONYX InSight. I am proud to be part of the team here, alongside the broader BP Group, helping them grow renewable businesses.
Have you always been interested in wind energy?
Personally, I love the renewables industry – I’ve spent a few years in solar as well – and wind turbines are a fascinating piece of engineering. When I first entered the industry, they were generally around 1-3MW but now we’re seeing 14MW offshore turbines.
It’s an amazing time to be involved – the industry right now doesn’t see any limitations and it’s incredible where the technology has taken us so far. An average of 15% of the European energy mix is now provided by wind – higher in many countries, such as the Nordics and Germany.
Being in wind for 10 years you naturally develop networks and a deeper understanding of the industry. It’s fulfilling to be a part of this growth and help to keep the industry viable, competitive and reliable – this is what we are experts in at ONYX InSight.
What new technologies have the greatest potential to make an impact on profitability in the markets you work in?
Digitalisation is crucial. Turbines generate a flood of data, so one of the biggest challenges is to manage it effectively to deliver accurate failure detection with the longest possible lead time.
I think we are in the midst of this huge opportunity to continue to develop predictive analytics platforms using artificial intelligence, bringing all data into one place to produce actionable insights. The industry is moving in the right direction, and this will continue to lower the cost of wind energy for years to come.
What trends or challenges do you think the wind industry will be focusing on in the near future?
There has been a lot of consolidation in the OEM market of late – it’s a similar story with IPPs, developers and operators. However, from my perspective, the most pivotal topic for Europe are the ageing fleets.
The first countries to adopt wind energy, such as Denmark and Germany, are now in a period of asset maturation. In Germany, 16% of the 60GW installed wind turbines have been there for 15 years or more. Furthermore, because of their age, many of these were built without condition monitoring systems – until recently, retrofitting was not an option for these assets, due to the prohibitive costs according to IPP calculations in comparison to profitable energy production.
However, advances in technology and reduced production costs have turned this ROI calculation on its head. Condition monitoring hardware is cheaper – driven by ONYX Insight’s introduction of MEMS sensors to the industry; installation is easier; the technology is cloud based – now, it is truly a viable solution to consider retrofitting smart technology to turbines of 2MWs and below to support with predictive analytics.
The industry needs to be revisit it’s approach to digitalisation on these legacy assets – the business case has changed significantly as the technology has become more advanced and more affordable.
Which markets in Europe are likely to benefit most from CMS retrofits?
Most modern wind turbines today leave the factory with sensing technology onboard, so it we need to look at older and mid-aged turbines when it comes to retrofits. Key early wind markets such as Germany, Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy can significantly benefit from installations of condition monitoring technology to get the most out of aging assets.
Finally, how can the European wind market remain competitive with emerging wind markets globally?
European countries that have had less supportive policies have seen significant drops in new installations – if investors don’t see the right environment or policy support, they will look to Asia or Latin America. There is a direct correlation between legislative changes and the acceleration of growth.
However, it is encouraging to see that the EU Recovery fund contains support for renewables. This is good news for European wind energy, but it shouldn’t lead to complacency. Every year wind energy costs come down significantly to compete with traditional energy sources. Increasingly, this is a merchant market, so the policy should encourage investment through streamlined permitting.